“Voyagers” is a perfectly fine science fiction morality tale, that goes off the rails about halfway through and devolves into an average action film in space. The big ideas that it starts with get left behind for a replay of issues from some very familiar material. I think if they had stuck to the questions concerning the morality of the entire enterprise instead of becoming “Lord of the Flies” in space with sex, this could have been something special. As it is, you can enjoy it as a passable theatrical experience that will not sit long in your head.
Let me begin by telling you what I thought was intriguing about the concept in the first place. In order to allow the species to go forward, scientists have devised an ark, that they will send forth to populate a new planet. Since it will take 86 years to get there, and unlike other films in the genre, there is no hibernation technology, the decision is made to seed the galaxy with children derived from genetically manipulated and selected materials. The kids get raised in isolation so they do not know what it it is they are leaving behind. This is to spare them the emotional trauma of separation anxiety. Right there, you could stop and develop that storyline and have an interesting picture. That’s not what the script does. Instead, we go on an accelerated launch with only one adult to manage things for the three or four dozen four year old who are being set afloat. OK, that would make an interesting film also, but that section lasts five minutes and we then enter into teen world. Here. the emotions and biology of the passengers is being manipulated to sustain resources, space and to avoid potential emotional conflicts. The ethics of that choice would also be a worthy trail to follow. Instead, we get the consequences of a rejection of the process and what we end up with is “teens going wild”.
Much of what happens does not make sense given that the kids have been immersed in a controlled environment their whole lives. How do the genetic offspring of geniuses, go from docile well oiled parts of a grand plan to sex crazed maniacs within a short period of time. The story shortcut seems to be a little too quick. It also appears that in spite of their intensive education, starting practically out of the womb, they never studied ethics, philosophy, theology or any system that would justify a moral code. Some of these kids shed the veneer of civilization as quickly as taking off your coat. The main villain is practically leering with evil intent five minutes past a key point in the movie. His naked ambition remains hidden to almost all of the rest of the kids with the exception of our two or three heroic figures. There is one idea that works for a while, the rebel maniacs start exploiting fear and uncertainty among the whole crew about a possible outside threat. “The Thing” vide works well at building animosities but everyone gets pushed over the threshold so easily that it feels a bit laughable.
The young cast is attractive but sometimes a little too mechanical. The characters are supposed to be somewhat level headed but it’s not until some really bad things happen that they wake up from the growing threat. It was not clear why there was not more than one sustaining hand to guide these kids through the early part of their development, in fact at one point is seems as if they were going to be launched on their own. Fortunately Colin Farrell does go along for the ride, adding some credibility to the start of the whole process. I know it would be difficult to imagine him as impotent in the face of the growing problem, but the catalyst for the escalation seems to be a shortcut. Farrell certainly has a charismatic impact on the film, and that could dwarf the focus on the kids. Tye Sheridan has been solid in the things I have seen him in, and once the movie gets to the outburst of violence, he is a little more active, but early on he is playing it as a somnambulant. Lily-Rose Depp is new to me but she seemed very familiar as a type, I think if the movie was better this could have been a breakout part. As it is, she is simply the best in a largely bland set of performances.
Production design for this movie feels a bit trapped in pre 1970s sterility. Most of the sets consist of well lit hallways with some trim on the doors. The ambient lighting reminds me of THX-1138 and 2001. The exteriors of the space vehicle are vague and brief, suggesting that the budget here was not quite as big as it might have been originally. It looks like someone who was trying to project something futuristic, but they never got past modern minimalism. There were only two of us in the theater for this screening, which suggests to me that the future is not long for this world.