Review by Jonathan W. Hickman
The prospect of dying in space is a good starting place for an intriguing science fiction yarn.
Unfortunately, with “Voyagers,” writer/director Neil Burger ventures perfunctorily into familiar, unengaging “Lord of the Flies” territory.
When the Earth gets too hot for human survival, a bold space expedition is mounted led by a team of unique youngsters. Genetically created (test tube babies), these young persons spend their first few years in a facility insulated from the outside world. Their one link to their homeworld is the milquetoast Richard (Colin Farrell), who blandly treats them as his children. When launch day arrives, he decides to accompany them on their risky, one-way mission.
The idea is a good one: send perfect human specimens on an 80-plus year space voyage to a far-off world capable of supporting life. Onboard, they will breed and likely die, hoping that their offspring will inhabit a new planet. But, as they say, these are best-laid plans...
Once in space, the children grow older under the tutelage of the fatherly Richard. Everything is going as planned until they get curious. Just what are they eating, and what effect is it having on them?
Naturally, these intelligent spacemen and spacewomen begin to change and alter their routine, which concerns Richard and threatens the mission. Bad things are inevitable.
As a test to see how long a group of people will adhere to a schedule and obey, “Voyagers” follows a predictable path. Voluntarily complying with oppressive, prison-like conditions cannot go on forever, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the crash on the horizon. It’s frustrating to watch what amounts to a slow-moving train wreck over the film’s running time.
“Voyagers” is the type of movie that makes viewers sigh loudly and even shout at the screen. Decision-making is faulty, and the entire mission seems doomed even before takeoff. The tease in the trailers and the film’s poster is that when the travelers reach a certain age, they will become amorous. While that does happen, the tease remains, as, for some weird reason, these intelligent young people have no idea how to engage sexually with one another.
The attractive cast (including Lilly-Rose Depp, Tye Sheridan, and Fionn Whitehead) easily sells the forbidden sex appeal in the trailers and the evocative posters. But the execution here is a largely sexless PG-13 affair. That’s a pity because sex in space has worked in other better movies.
Depp, Johnny’s talented daughter, conveys comely ingenue well, but, as Sela, she’s the trained medical official onboard. Therefore, you’d think that her knowledge of the human body would extend to, at least, a rudimentary understanding of reproduction and sex in general.
The naive, puritanical approach taken by mission control made little sense to me. After all, the goal is that these bright kids will reproduce, and eventually, their children will populate a new world. Keeping them in the dark as to basic, mature subjects, how are they to do this?
Based on what we’re shown, it’s doubtful that these men and women would be capable of such an enormous world-building task. We don’t even get a montage as we see in the classic Richard Donner “Superman” where education occurs in travel by computer-generated learning modules. I suppose all the boring teaching takes place offscreen, but the teachers should be fired. These unformed youngsters are veritable know-nothings.
Performances are fine, with Depp and Sheridan gobbling up most of the screen time. Farrell is cold and primarily emotionless, which is expected from the role, but his character and Sela's possible relationship is wasted.
A “Lolita” subplot could have helped. Still, Burger, the director who gave us the middling “Divergent” adaptation, goes for a heavy-handed, somber morality play, where a campy, sexy science fiction thriller would have served him better.
“Voyagers” leaves you confused and frustrated.
A RottenTomatoes.com Tomatometer-approved critic, Jonathan W. Hickman is also an entertainment lawyer, college professor, novelist, and filmmaker. He’s a member of the Atlanta Film Critics Circle, The Southeastern Film Critics Association, and the Georgia Film Critics Association. For more information about Jonathan visit: FilmProductionLaw.com or DailyFIlmFix.com