Studio: Epic Pictures
Director: Scott Baker
Writer: Scott Baker, Morgan Lariah, David Henri Martin
Producer: Morgan Lariah, Scott Baker, Mike Phillips
Stars: Morgan Lariah, Manu Intiraymi, Tim Russ, Armin Shimerman, David Lim, Herman Wilkins, Marina Sirtis, Doug Jones
Five passengers fight to stay alive aboard an escape pod built for four after their exploratory spacecraft is destroyed.
Yeesh. Where do we even begin diving into the (insert unflattering adjectives here) “5thPassenger?” I can think of numerous wincing words to populate the preceding parentheses, but you’ll have to fill in the blank yourself. After researching the not insignificant grassroots effort that went into making this lo-fi passion project a reality, I just feel bad for everyone involved that their movie turned out so poorly.
Might as well start at the beginning. Not of the movie’s fictional story, but the behind-the-scenes bio of how the film came to fruition. That might be the best basis upon which to understand what we’re dealing with.
“5thPassenger” pitched itself into tangible form as a proof-of-concept trailer in late 2012. Two years later, the first crowdfunding campaign came in through Kickstarter seeking a modest $65,000 for production. Probably on the promise of several Star Trek alums showing up in starring roles, nearly 800 backers ponied up almost $80k and 17 days of filming began in January 2015.
Somewhere during post-production later that year, a second crowdfunding campaign surfaced, this time on Indiegogo. “5thPassenger” looked for another $65,000 to finance VFX work, but less than 200 backers donated only 28% of that goal. Then the project entered a limbo of posting scattered updates on two different platforms as work continued here and there for another two years.
“5thPassenger” finally locked a finished cut in June of 2017, two and a half years after the first footage came out of the camera. Festival submissions were underway. Select screenings took place. Eventually, Epic Pictures picked up the movie for distribution and released it in July of 2018. To say that producers traveled an arduous road of blood, sweat, tears, and squeezed pennies to completion would be an understatement.
Regrettably, getting across the finish line on an empty gas tank and an emptier bankbook earns the movie its sole “atta boy,” as the finished film doesn’t deserve a similar accolade. With all due respect to its creators’ commitment, but with greater respect for giving viewers an honest assessment, “5thPassenger” feels likes adults playing make-believe in a flimsy fan film.
A bunch of backstory involving a catastrophe on Earth, a conflict between two classes, unique terminology, as well as dozens of names for characters either not seen or not remembered suggests at least one of the three writers was optimistic about building a bigger world that will certainly never be revisited. Basically, all of the setup serves to put five spacecraft survivors in an escape pod so they can roll through the standard sci-fi tropes of doing a space walk for a risky repair that can only be performed outside, worrying about running out of oxygen, MacGyvering mechanics to save malfunctioning systems, waving phantom fingers while pensively pondering over an inordinate amount of computer screens, and generally aiming for each other’s throats as prejudices and paranoia come into play.
Anyone interested in the movie is likely to be drawn in by appearances from fan favorites of Star Trek fame including Doug Jones, Marina Sirtis, Tim Russ, and Armin Shimerman, who replaced Robert Picardo. Unfortunately, those who come for those names will find themselves suffering almost as much as the cast appears to be as they blandly chew on unnecessary dialogue while confined to a single set barely bigger than a kitchen.
There’s no beating around the bush on this point. Frankly put, anyone with eyes can see that the acting is awful. And when everyone uniformly under-delivers like they do here, including actors with deep résumés who’ve turned in fine work before, that has to be chalked up to an inexperienced director erecting an unmotivated on-set atmosphere.
Several actors in small early roles sound as though they are speaking out loud after hearing their lines for the first time ten seconds prior. Speaking of small roles, Marina Sirtis appears in a framing device given such little screen time, I was surprised to learn she wasn’t shot out in a single day. Doug Jones takes the prize for shortest appearance with his single scene however. As the Star Trek ‘gets’ go, your choices are to either cringe while watching familiar faces slum for a paycheck or barely see them at all.
A few performances speed up to a passable level of cruise control as the movie goes on. What doesn’t warm up is the loose editing, which lingers just long enough on alternating shots to further drain interactive energy. Dull environments don’t generate much heat either. Having gotten through the 1990s on healthy helpings of “Earth: Final Conflict,” “Babylon 5,” and “Deep Space 9,” I have a high tolerance for production values on par with 20th-century syndicated sci-fi. “5thPassenger” does a serviceable job of executing okay effects considering its peer level, although it’s ultimately only the least weak link in a chain with nothing but weak links.
Adding anything more doesn’t seem fair, reflecting the fact that “5thPassenger” can be an excruciating viewing experience. Maybe I should have left it at “yeesh.”
I’m sorry to have to say this to anyone who has yet to hear it, or may be unwilling to accept it. “5th Passenger” is simply a flop.
Review Score: 25