Dan Cooper reviews Voyagers, a film that has a lot of ideas to explore, but fails to go deep enough for a satisfying viewing experience.
It is perhaps best to determine what Voyagers is by first considering what it isn’t. Director Neil Burger’s science fiction drama about a crew of young people confronting the savagery within themselves certainly isn’t the sensual, lushly hedonistic descent into degeneracy promised by its slightly misleading trailer.
It also isn’t really an arresting examination into the human condition, at least not when compared to Lord Of The Flies, the classic William Golding novel that writer/director Neil Burger’s screenplay owes a great debt to. However, Voyagers isn’t just some pretentious young adult sci-fi film with a young and beautiful cast, harbouring delusions about its depth either. There are some weighty themes running throughout the film, but ironically, for a film about a crew seeking to colonise a new home planet, it feels a little too unexplored.
The conceit here is a clever one: Earth is dying and so a crew of young spacefarers are sent on a multi-generation space flight to colonise a new planet. Despite being young, the 86-year journey means that the teenage astronauts will never see the planet themselves. Instead, their children’s children will be the generation to make landfall, essentially rendering the characters as nothing more than breeders and caretakers for the next generation.
Slowly, the ship’s crew come to terms with this difficult truth, the craft itself becoming a microcosm of our own society, as the film encourages us to reflect on our own sense of responsibility within society. Are we merely stewards, preserving this world for the next generation or should we be free to leave our mark upon it like every previous generation? After all, we’re only here once.
This is just one of the deep philosophical questions that is woven throughout Voyagers’ narrative. Notions of nature vs. nurture, freedom vs. responsibility, savagery vs. the civilising process and the concept of original sin are all present. But a strangely subdued script and restrained performances (even on the part of the characters who choose a path of savagery) often prevents them from bubbling to the surface.
What remains then is a film that, like its teenage characters, seems unsure of what it wants to be. Burger has spoken of the film originally being written for adults and then adapted somewhat for a PG-13 audience, and perhaps that’s the problem here. Whilst on one hand Voyagers is a perfectly serviceable watch, it isn’t as fun as you might expect from a film of hormone- ridden young people creating their own society in space, and it never feels quite weighty enough either, its many clever ideas buried too deeply.
Perhaps by treading that middle ground and attempting to serve multiple masters, Voyagers’ ambition is its biggest problem. What remains is enjoyable, although with a fine director and cast, a classic story and the perfect genre to explore such ideas, the film ultimately offers less than the sum of its parts.
Voyagers is now available on Sky Cinema.
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