When you look back at the iconic Sci-Fi films throughout history you can see their DNA imprinted in almost all of the proceeding Sci-fi films that follow. Voyagers is one of those films that is taking influence from various places in order to create a story that is “larger than life” – but in all its exploration, does it find any meaningful answer? Well… no, but that doesn’t mean its journey is all for nothing.
Voyagers follows the story of a group of children born to live aboard a ship due for another solar system – but things quickly turn awry when tragedy occurs and these kids are faced with the threat of turning on one another.
Voyagers proficiency in storytelling fails to meet its own ambition. This film very desperately wanted to tackle expansive themes and deeper messages; from moral philosophy, mental psychology, and those pesky big questions about life. It’s hard not to feel like this flick is trying its hand at tackling what the greats of sci-fi have done before. But like a ship coasting in deep space, Voyagers has nothing substantial to grab onto in its search for answers – probing audiences with questions, posing interesting ideas, but failing to ever answer or explore those very themes it seems so intent on delving into.
Much of this film involves paltry attempts by writer-director Neil Burger to marry these themes with a painfully narrow teen plot-point; the fact that Neil Burger is responsible for kicking off the Divergent film series comes to no surprise, as much of the same stale DNA can be found in Voyagers. That being said, it is respectable that Neil Burger tried his hand at doing something with a tad more flare than your typical young adult flick; but with all said, it’s still hard to watch a story that had potential quash all hope at doing something potentially interesting, and make no mistake, Voyagers could have done something interesting.
Where Voyagers primarily succeeds is in its tension as a sci-fi flick in an isolated setting. The film quickly shows its hand as a thriller more than a drama, effectively building layers of tension as events escalate. Much of the film is based around the concept of individuals turning on one-another; in a sense it’s about humans reverting back to their base primal instincts. I get the impression writer-director Neil Burger is attempting to make a film that is showcasing the nature of humanity through the lens of these kids on a ship. For instance, groups of kids separate and form sides in order to come to some sort of resolution, whether that be through diplomacy or bloodshed. Some of the crew are driven by fear, others by reason, but ultimately the “reasons” each group have for fighting one another are moot by the films close, as the primary aspect that makes this film a palatable and butt clenching watch lies in how effectively it builds and escalates the tension it has. This film is very good at tension, even if the narrative fails hopelessly to keep up.
Unfortunately another aspect that seemingly lets this film down lies in the performances of the young adult cast. Not much can be said for lead actor Tye Sheridan as he essentially holds a similarly acceptable performance that he held in Ready Player One (2018). Alongside Tye Sheridan is Lilly-Rose Depp as a sort of lead character counter-part and she provides an admirable performance, most certainly the films least distasteful. But where true calamity lies is in Dunkirk (2017) star Fionn Whitehead as he attempts to portray an antagonistic character with not a wisp of threatening bravado. An antagonist that doesn’t feel threatening and a lead character that isn’t interesting does not make for a palatable combo. Good thing the tension was on point.
Director of Photography, Enrique Chediak, brings in a similar style he has used for other young-adult films such as The Maze Runner (2014) and The Fifth Wave (2016). Operating in a confined space, the camera-work never feels repetitive or stagnant, as Chediak’s creative use of the camera keeps things interesting. The camera-work further adds to the tension and atmosphere of the film and perfectly complements the set-design with the maze-like confusion of the ship. As most of the film is confined to one location, I felt the feelings of claustrophobia, particularly in the scenes where the camera glides across the ceiling in the narrow hallways.
The sleek interior of the ship has one decoration aesthetic throughout the entire film. One could view this as lazy as the set-design rarely varies scene to scene, I, in fact, find this to be the right creative choice as it makes the ship feel like a maze heightening the paranoia atmosphere. Trevor Gureckis seems to be inspired by Hans Zimmer for his work on Blade Runner 2049 (2017), as the score he has composed is eerily similar with the loud bass tracks and high pitch screeching which helps amp up the tension Voyagers is building. For every space movie, the sound design is a crucial aspect of this genre. Thankfully, Voyagers could produce accurate sounds that we hear in the outer space scenes, as it is the muffled sounds we are accustomed to hearing in modern space movies such as Gravity (2013) and First Man (2018).
Voyagers gets certain elements right and it had the gaul to try its hand at being a tad more experimental than your typical young adult flick and for that I tip my hat to it; but like any great story, full commitment is preferable to a half measured attempt. Voyagers wants to be something bigger than it really is and in a parallel universe perhaps there’s a great version of this film out there. But in this one, it seems we’re stuck with a relatively tense, but ultimately forgettable film.