The name Neil Burger is not as synonymous with quality films by directors such as Spielberg or Tarantino, but for awhile now I have felt that Burger has been largely underrated. His films, The Illusionist and Limitless, showed 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 and Colin Farrell were to be part of the cast. Given the talent both in front of and behind the camera, I was expecting something that would equally be as special as Ender’s Game but left the cinema feeling underwhelmed 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 (Colin 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 (Tye Sheridan), the intelligent Sela (Lily-Rose Depp) and the head-strong Zac (Fionn Whitehead) were created for no other purpose than to start a journey into space heading for a far-off planet, while looking after the ship, and with plans to procreate in the future so that one day their grand-children will be the ones to reach their destination.
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, they stop taking the drugs 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 writer and director Neil Burger has created for himself to work with is a claustrophobic suspense thriller, but sadly, the film never reaches its full potential. The biggest issue was the fact that the film too easily sign-posts what is going to happen next, and 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 and it becomes not a case of ‘if’ but ‘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, Lord Of The Flies and blend them all together. However, sadly that mix seems to misfire, as the film became far too predictable. At times, I wondered whether Voyagers would have worked better as a television series, but I think even then people would be comparing it to The 100 from the very beginning.
The only winner out of this film was Lily-Rose Depp. She has been an intriguing actress to watch over the past few years, has shown promise in films like Yoga Hosers but recently wasn’t given much to work with in the film 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, although likable, needed to be stronger. To be fair this is a result mainly coming down to the screenplay and not Sheridan’s performance.
It really does feel that with Voyagers, 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.