“Voyagers” begins with a fascinating premise. To man a space vehicle that will take 86 years to reach its destination, the crew is bred in a lab and raised in isolation, so they will be unable to miss the Earth they are leaving behind. That concept raises so many ethical and logistical issues which could have led to a very unique film. Writer/director Neil Burger chooses a more familiar route.
In the opening world-building montage, Richard (Colin Farrell) explains the plan to ensure the survival of the human race. In 2063, Earth has become increasingly inhospitable to human life, so their best bet is to send a ship with 30 people towards a planet they recently discovered. The thing is, this journey will take 86 years to reach so it’s the original crew’s grandchildren who are expected to colonize the new planet. Not only would it be difficult to find 30 qualified individuals, but how many of them would be able to handle the psychological pressure of a mission like that? The solution is to grow their own custom-made crew and raise them to their specs. Richard is there for the kids every step of the way and eventually volunteers to go with them. After boarding the “Humantis” around age 8 and the film quickly jumps to 10 years later.
Life aboard the “Humantis” is very monotone. The entire ship is a sterile white with the crew dressed in black. There is hardly any sound. The crew seems content but apathetic. Christopher (Tye Sheridan), a particularly inquisitive crewmember, notices that they are all being given a chemical meant to suppress their emotions and inhibitions. Like any teenager, he and others decide to rebel and stop taking the chemical. It’s easy to imagine the chaos that ensures from confining 30 suddenly liberated teenagers within a flying metal tube.
It’s surprising that this is the point where Neil Burger decides to play it safe. Instead of treading new territory the rest of the movie becomes teen “Lord of the Flies” in space. It’s not a bad concept, but the similarities are excessive. There’s even a questionable monster/alien that divides allegiances! This retelling does add a lot more angst and hormones though. At times, the sheer amount of dumb-teen antics makes it difficult to watch, but maybe that’s a testament to the performances? The entire cast, including Lily-Rose Depp and Fionn Whitehead does a very solid job, although their characters aren’t exactly a stretch.
“Voyagers” is a very competently made movie that doesn’t do anything particularly special. Entertaining in the moment, but easily forgettable.