The name Neil Burger is not as synonymous with quality films say as a name like Spielberg or Tarantino, but for awhile now I have felt that Burger has been largely underrated. His films, The Illusionist and Limitless, showed a rare creativity and promise, while when it came to Divergent I was completely in love. I still don’t care what anyone says to me; Divergent is a much better dystopian teenage-focussed film than The Hunger Games.
So when I heard that Burger was the man behind teen sci-fi Voyagers I was genuinely excited – even more so when I heard that Tye Sheridan (Mud) and Colin Farrell (In Bruges) were to be part of the cast. Given the talent both in front of and behind the camera I was expecting something that would be as equally special as Ender’s Game but I have to say I left the cinema a little under-whelmed and disappointed that the film never seemed to reach its full potential.
The setting is all there for something that could have been an amazing film. There is tension and emotion from the start as crew-leader Richard (Farrell) demands to go into space with a teenage crew that he has ‘fathered’ since they were babies. These specially designed children, which include the thoughtful Christopher (Sheridan), the intelligent Sela (Lily-Rose Depp – Yoga Hosers) and the head-strong Zac (Fionn Whitehead – Dunkirk), were created for no other purpose than to start a space-ships journey into space heading for a far off planet. Their role is to look after the ship then procreate so that one day their grand-children will be the ones to reach the planet.
Richard cares for the children and does whatever he can to protect them but his authority is soon brought into question when Christopher and Zac learn that they are being drugged to prevent normal teenage urges from developing. Once that discovery is made and they stop taking the drug in question soon they find themselves in touch with their emotions – which is not all that it seems when emotions such as jealousy and lust begin to take over.
What Burger has created for himself to work with is a claustrophobic suspense thriller, but sadly for me it felt like the film never reached its full potential. To me the biggest issue was the fact that the film too easily sign-posts what is going to happen, as a viewer I felt like I was playing a chess-game where I could see my opponents next two moves before they even made them.
Burger allows one actor to wear emotion on his face so plainly that his evil intentions are clear from the beginning which instantly takes away all suspense as you know it isn’t a case of ‘if’ but simply just ‘when.’
Being a fan of dystopian films and television shows it was also very easy for me to see that Burger’s intention was to create a film that took all the best elements of Ender’s Game, The 100 and Lord Of The Flies and blend them all together but sadly that mix seems to mis-fire as the film just became too predictable. At times I was wondering whether the film would have worked better as a television series, but I think even then people would be raising the likeness of the storyline and some of the characters to The 100 from the very beginning.
To me the only winner out of this film was Lily-Rose Depp. She has been an intriguing actress to watch over the past few years. She has shown promise in films like Yoga Hosers but recently wasn’t given much to work with in Crisis. But here Depp steps into her own. She delivers a strong, commanding performance that shows she has an amazing future ahead of her. And while I do still feel that Tye Sheridan will win an Oscar one day here it feels that while his character is likable it needed to be stronger, which to be fair mainly comes down to the screenplay and not his performance.
It really does feel with Voyagers that Neil Burger missed the opportunity to make something brilliant. The premise and basis was there for an intriguing character-driven space thriller but something happened on the launch-pad and this new ship never really got into orbit.