I finally caught up with ‘Passengers’, the 2016 movie featuring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. No doubt by now I’m late to the party tearing apart this movie, but I can’t resist writing my thoughts down anyway. SPOILER ALERT: there are spoilers in here.
- The ship’s computers are strangely programmed in horribly inconsistent ways
When Jim Preston wakes up, the ship has no problem identifying him, and reacting to him, but depending on where he is, he gets very different responses in the programming. He originally assumes he’s woken up just 4 months away from landing, and starts out doing exactly as told, which includes going to a training session in a special room.Here’s the problem: the ship is clearly intelligent enough to monitor everyone’s movement around the ship, react, and allow or deny different classes of passengers access and/or perks based on their levels. Therefore, it knows who is where and when. It wouldn’t take much to throw a simple “if before 90 years” statement in there somewhere.
When Jim walks into the training room, the software should have been sophisticated enough to know there was only one person present, because it is clearly able to react to him enough to tell him to hold questions, but then answer his question when he persists. Later on, Jim connects with Arthur, who has no problem admitting that there’s no possible way Jim could be present in the bar, because the hibernation pods are flawless, and yet, Arthur ALSO has no problem serving Jim or responding to him as if he belongs there, even though he’s 90 years early.
One of two things should be consistently true: either the ship is NOT prepared to deal with passengers being awake before 90 years (which would make sense, because of the resource problem to be discussed down the road) or it is IS prepared to deal with passengers being awake before 90 years, which would kick off some internal ‘oh crap’ protocol to deal with exactly that scenario.
No company would be SO foolish as to halfass the most important software on the ship because they believe their own marketing campaign about how foolproof the hibernation pods are, right? Well, maybe that part is more believable.
The failure to deal with Jim properly can’t be cascading failures, either, though, because Jim Preston’s pod is the very first failure detected, and there aren’t a whole lot of them by the time he has already had these interactions. Certainly none of the systems interacting with him at that point, because it’s well over a year before he even notices anything going wrong.
Assuming the ship really IS in denial that he should even be awake, it should have detected him as a security threat (alien invader, foreign life form, whatever) and eliminated him, simply because he was not possibly able to be there, which android Arthur actually flat out says.
- Jim Preston’s original message to Homestead would arrive in 19 yearsUpon waking up, one of the first things Jim Preston does before going mad and losing his mind to the point of condemning another passenger to death is he sends a message to customer support regarding having woken up 90 years too early on his journey.Let’s assume the computer is accurate regarding the delivery of his message. The computer claims it will take 19 years for the message to arrive, then several years for a response, followed by the journey of the response, meaning the reply would come in an estimated 55 years. The science behind this is based on using a laser array to send a message, which means the message would be traveling at light speed back to earth, which is fine. However…
Let’s say you’re Joe Tech Support, and you get this very peculiar voice message from the spaceship Avalon, from a passenger claiming to have woken up 90 years too early. It’s pretty likely this wouldn’t end up in the SPAM folder along with all the Nigerian princes who seem to want to give us millions of dollars. Most likely, this one would get flagged as ‘priority,’ or someone isn’t going to have a job very long.
As soon as it did, it would likely move to the head of the class pretty quickly. Since Homestead was a company that seemed to have thought of everything (or maybe not, see below), it wouldn’t likely take 55 years for a response. If they had thought about this scenario even remotely, they would have realized another huge problem born of the huge problem they just were notified of (19 years later). Either way, they theoretically could remotely trigger SOMETHING – waking up another crew member properly, some kind of procedure – that could handle this scenario. Because what company worth quadrillions would risk space travel over a disaster in which one of their pods DOES fail? That would be incredibly stupid, and unnecessarily short sighted. Like we said before, marketing, and believing the marketing, are two different things entirely, and no company would knowingly go to market with such a glaring possibility for problems arising and simply not have a contingency in place. Unless of course they really didn’t care about the Avalon, and never intended it to land on Homestead II in the first place…
- While we’re at it, how exactly would money work?As we learn, Homestead is worth quadrillions, but how, exactly? It takes decades to get a MESSAGE back and forth from the ship. Assuming that everything goes according to plan, the crew and passengers are set to wake up 5 months, and 4 months respectively, before they land – almost 90 years of earth time. If it takes roughly half the time for messages to travel back to earth (based on Jim sending his tech support message after 30 years of travel, and it taking 19 years to get back to earth), Homestead wouldn’t be able to collect a dime from anyone for at LEAST another 135 years, and nobody currently at Homestead would even still be alive.Unless of course they were traveling, too, at which point 5,000 people are playing by a currency system they could immediately reject. It doesn’t seem like the best business model, since landing on a new world with people with specific skill sets would be way more conducive to bartering than paying money for things. Unless part of the “crew” was a security force that was so loyal to Homestead they would enforce corporate doctrine on behalf of whoever was traveling for Homestead. That all has its own dark implication that gets a superficial treatment through Aurora Lane, but it’s not a plot problem, just very disturbing. It’s all probably in the terms of agreement for travel, which would be just an amazing document to read.
- Autodoc can suspend human life, but there’s only one…Or is there? Jim read the manifests, and has told us there are replacement parts for every system and every component on the ship. Which means he can build a second autodoc. “But how would they suspend themselves in it? Once one of them was in, how would the other one get suspended?” That’s really hard to figure out. At some point, it’s not like Jim has repaired several systems, fixed Arthur, and even modified one of the robots to include a camera that he can control (with the sole purpose of impressing the woman he attempts to murder).What we’re saying here is Jim has just the right skill set to modify a robot that he could control within autodoc, set to wait 20 minutes, and extend something to press the ‘suspend’ button on Autodoc to put him into suspension once he got the second one online.
- Jim has to vent the reactor core manually by opening the doorBut this is after he’s brought the entire ship back online, which immediately seems to regain its own balance, by swapping out a single board and rebooting the reactor core. The ship comes complete with a very advance diagnostic and repair suite of software, which we see at work very early on in the movie. As it is explained by Gus, the systems have come apart, because one critical system has failed somewhere, and the rest of the ship is lending its processing power to try to make up for that loss (which is at the heart of redundant systems programming).However, as soon as that major system is corrected by Jim, the ship recovers, and is able to run flawlessly (we assume) for another 86 years (as we can tell thanks to Captain Norris showing up and looking bewildered at the very end) to find a forest (we’ll get to that next). As soon as everything is repaired, the ship should have been able to detect the broken vent door (a pretty damn high priority and another thing any company would spend some time thinking about), deploy some minions, and have fixed in the space of less than a minute. Certainly a lot less time than it would take Jim Preston to get in a space suit, have a very long and meaningful romantic staredown with Aurora, and then spacewalk all the way around to the door to open it.Gus himself implies this is not his first rodeo, so the implication is there is at least one other colony that has been visited many times (a different problem in terms of earth time) and Homestead II implies the second such colony. This wouldn’t have been the first time Homestead sent (successfully) a ship into space, and even got one back, so one of two things is true – they were either incredibly lucky for all the previous voyages (if NASA has taught us anything, this is not possible) or they truly thought of everything on previous voyages (which seems not to be the case with this one). Or, as mentioned before, Homestead never had any intention of landing the ship on Homestead II.
Either way, the ship seems to be conveniently lacking only when needed in terms of technology and programming.
Side thought: when the hell does this take place? Gus implies he’s made similar trips a number of times before. If he went to a similar, sister colony… Homestead I… each trip would take roughly 180 years. That means earth is somewhere around the year 3000, if they started prepping these types of trips now. In theory, their systems and programming and technology in general would have improved a lot more in a thousand years than it seems to have.
- None of it would have mattered, because Jim Preston doomed the whole ship anywayJim Preston, master engineer and mechanic, ship repairer, and also serial killer of 5,256 humans, all through one simple act: he planted a tree, and an oak sapling, at that.At the end of the movie, we see Captain Norris walk out to a Grand Concourse that has all the greenery of a beautiful park in the middle of any city. Looking closely at that scene, there are hanging plants, sprinklers, and even a bird flying around and chickens on the ground. Now, keep in mind, this is what we see 86 years later. So let’s say Jim Preston and Aurora Lane spend most of their time getting this whole ecosystem up and running, they are still likely dead a good 20 years before anyone else wakes up and sees it, and by then, it would be way too late.Plants require water. And sunlight. And nutrients from soil. There’s grass growing everywhere. And water and soil come with a whole bunch of problems in the world of space travel – they breed all sorts of other things, too, as NASA has proven again and again.
Mold, mildew, fungus, bacteria… all those things would have spread throughout the ship. This exact thing actually happened on board the MIR space station. Unless Jim was able to build some impressive technology to contain all these things, and deal with all the problems having living things like trees and animals aboard a ship create, in the 86 years it took for that ecosystem to become what it was, the entire ship would have been compromised, and ultimately doomed. The plant life would have crept everywhere, fueled by the water and moisture that would have spread it. The animals would also have gotten everywhere, and so would their fecal matter, which would have to be dealt with somehow. Especially in the case of flying birds that cannot be contained. All this would inevitably have led, fairly quickly, to the ship being compromised in a way the Homestead programming team would never have anticipated, let alone programmed for, especially since their programming couldn’t identify a human out of place, or that he’d woken up too early, or that he was the only one in a room, or even awake on board the ship.
EVEN if Jim and Aurora read up on how to start and maintain life in a new colony, the reality of doing that in a spaceship is VASTLY opposite. In a new world, you want plants and animals to flourish. In a controlled, closed environment, you want everything very tightly enclosed and controlled, not spreading all over.
Let’s run through this. Jim plants a small tree, and we see it 86 years later. He and Aurora are probably around 30 when they leave, and if they lived to 90 (there seem to be some impressive medical devices aboard) that means 26 years of unchecked growth. It also means they needed resources to keep all those plants and animals alive that whole time. And there is a clue in there that maybe the writers thought about this a little bit, since we see the waiter service bots in the gardens.
What we see is three white ducks and a hawk. There’s no way that after 26 years there would only be 1 hawk and 3 ducks. There would have to be far more than that, unless the bots run around killing things to control the population. After 26 years, there would be either a lot more of those animals, or none of them at all. Keeping just a single hawk alive means there needs to be prey, such as mice. And mice get EVERYWHERE. Anyone who has ever owned a house near a field knows this. They love to climb in and nest all over the place. Mice would be one of the worst things to let loose on a space ship, and yet, there’s a hawk, soaring around, that would consume tons of them. And mice need food, too…
The mere presence of all these animals and plants would consume far more resources than the ship would have, so even if the ship was able to accommodate all that flora and fauna for 86 years, it would have been at the expense of the other 5255 passengers on board the ship. Which is why when Captain Norris wakes up and sees it, he has a very clear ‘oh shit’ look on his face – if he knows anything at all about science, he knows they’ll never make it for 4 months because they’ll never have the resources they need to sustain all those people. The water, food, and energy used to maintain all that would have been far too much to make up.
But, it’s good that Jim and Aurora were able to maintain a nice, happy, comfortable earth-like life boozing it up on Aurora’s Gold Class dime while laughing about how once upon a time, Jim doomed Aurora, only to save everyone, only to kill them all again.