Voyagers has a fantastic premise. Earth's resources are being depleted, so mankind has to send a group of pioneers to another planet. Getting there will take eighty-five years. That means sending young people who will live and breed via laboratory methods on the spaceship, allowing their grandchildren to be the ones to colonize.
Of course, young adults would be difficult, since they would miss Earth and its pleasures. Therefore, a group of children is scientifically bred to possess enhanced intelligence. They're raised in isolation so they won't know any way of life other than the one planned for them. And to ensure they don't overpopulate the ship, they're secretly given a drug that suppresses their emotions, including sexual desires. When the group discovers this and stops ingesting the drug, all hell breaks loose.
If only the movie stayed with that premise, it would be a lot better than it is. Voyagers unfortunately strays from it on a regular basis. There's a whole subplot about whether or not an alien has made its way on board after the sole chaperone, Richard (Colin Farrell), ventures outside for a quick repair. Then a rivalry develops between two of the young men, Christopher (Tye Sheridan) and Zac (Fionn Whitehead). Both want the loyalty of the crew after tragedy strikes. Now that neither has the drug in his system, they also both want Sela (Lily-Rose Depp), the Chief Medical Officer.
There's a compelling movie to be made on this subject. Voyagers isn't it. Imagine being in your early twenties and experiencing attraction, love, and sexual pleasure for the first time. Imagine the anger that would come from knowing those things had been withheld from you against your will. Imagine trying to make sense of it all with no adults around to provide context. Enough drama exists in those ideas to fuel several movies. We don't need the alien nonsense or the Lord of the Flies-esque in-fighting that clutters up the back half of the movie. In fact, Voyagers proves frustrating in the way it continually veers away from what we most want to focus on.
The actors cannot be faulted. All of them do fine work with flawed material. Sheridan, in particular, brings a lot of nuance to Christopher, a guy who recognizes how messed-up the whole scenario is and attempts to bring sanity to the chaos. Voyagers also has excellent cinematography, with the camera racing through the narrow hallways of the ship as the characters traverse them. On a technical level, you can see that a lot of care was put into the production.
I can't remember the last time a film had such little confidence in itself, though. Writer/director Neil Burger (Limitless) refuses to delve into his concept as fully as he could. By the end, he's painted himself into a corner, trying to resolve everything with a big out-of-place action scene that rips off one of the most iconic sci-fi/horror movies of all time. When Voyagers sticks to the basics, it's pretty interesting. It just doesn't stick to them nearly enough.
out of four
Voyagers is rated PG-13 for violence, some strong sexuality, bloody images, a sexual assault and brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 48 minutes.