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Passengers Movie: Invaluable Investment Allegory

Source: Sony Pictures

DECEMBER 31, 2016

The new Passengers movie is nothing short of exceptional. To read the movie reviews about Passengers in popular media you would think that Passengers is a complete failure, with no redeeming qualities. When the fact is the movie does a fine job of imagining and visualizing a story, that is very relevant to the world of business, investing and technology.

Across the board, Washington Post, New York Times (NYT),, and Rolling Stone trashed the movie. Three of those four publications:, Rolling Stone's legendary film reviewer Peter Travers and Washington Post awarded Passengers 1 and a half stars. One and a half stars insinuates that something should not have been made, or possibly it is mainly an expression that they wish the film had been made better.

Passengers takes on a major task of realizing an approximate 60 light year voyage and delivers on several counts, and amounts to a quirky, intelligent adventure that envisions the future. In fact one of the reviews which slams the movie even seems to be critical of the fact that one of the characters is supposed to be "good." Stating that Passengers' character Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is: "a bland, buff, utterly anonymous “good” guy." In a one and a half star review such a sentiment is hardly a compliment of course.

Some of the reviews appear to miss the subtext of the film that is never expressed in the text. When often stories reveal some important nuances that are vital to understanding the plot, Passengers is unique because it does not. It is left to that old fashioned concept of having to figure something out, rather than be told.

While the critical New York Times review offers a far more contemplative analysis of the movie, and does not rate the film on a star system, Stephen Holden wrote Passengers' "attempt to be an interstellar “Titanic” eventually falls flat." The Titanic (1997) allusion is important to Passengers thematically, though misses the point of the Passengers story, because it is clear Passengers is not attempting "to be an interstellar "Titanic." This is not to say that the critics do not offer any good points, of course 3 one and a half stars is not coincidence, though it is surprising given the quality of Passengers and the fairly strong storytelling.

Passengers Evolution Compared To Gravity

In general the force of film critics is important. While the film Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney won approval and praise, and did phenomenally in the box office, some writers felt that the film studios did not give credit where credit was due.

In the entertainment business two important factors are quality of the final product, and profit. In the case of Gravity (2013) many liked the overall film experience, particularly the performances by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Gravity's box office total was reportedly $723M from a $100M budget according to public declarations. Passengers reported a $110M budget and has thus far brought in a reported $35.9M in box office returns in 10 days, against Star Wars' reported $615M box office return in 15 days. Note that box office return is not total profit, and additional expenditures related to distribution and advertisement are not always included in budget, so profit can be less than box office return minus budget.

Forbes recently published Why Jennifer Lawrence's $20M (and Chris Pratt's $12M) 'Passengers' Payday Was A Trap, where Scott Mendelson figures:

The exuberant salary, again arguably intended as a symbolic triumph, created false impressions about whose story Passengers was telling and false presumptions that the filmmakers had fixed the “problematic” story turns in Jon Spaihts’s original (and arguably never intended to be blockbuster material) screenplay. - Forbes "Why Jennifer Lawrence's $20M (and Chris Pratt's $12M) 'Passengers' Payday Was a Trap" 12/29/2016

Though some would argue the contrary, that in fact Passengers' script is fairly intelligent. The performances were fine, the direction was entertaining, the cinematography stellar and the production design very skilled. Film can be anything the filmmakers dream it to be, and there is no rule stating that A-List quality production is reserved for "blockbuster material." Gravity proved this precise point and for that matter there is always the daring Cast Away (2000) where Tom Hanks was stranded on a desert island with a volley ball and films such as Harvey (1950) and Spirt of St. Louis (1957), with Jimmy Stewart. Where Stewart's character played opposite an invisible, giant rabbit in the former and a fly, in a cross-Atlantic solo flight in the latter. Instead Passengers' ensemble included a variety of characters interwoven into an interesting story, though some of the critics did not see. Where investors and tech inventors might.

What is also interesting is the fact that the story of Passengers was buoyant since it was written, where New Line's Katja bought the rights to a book called "Gravity" by Tess Gerritsen in 1999. New Line joined Turner Broadcasting in 1994, which merged with Time Warner 2 years later. Though New Line and Warner Brothers were both owned by Time Warner when the "Gravity" book by Tess Gerritsen was purchased, and a contract was agreed to, offering the book's author compensation if the book was turned into a movie, ultimately the studio decided not to give credit for the film Gravity, to the author of the book "Gravity" according to the book's author and some news reports.

One of the legal documents related to the evolution of the "Gravity" story states that because Time Warner's studios were melded in a certain way the film production did not have to abide by the contract originally agreed to. This is just to say, that while Gravity was popular and successful it may be that in deed the Passengers' production was nicer, and it seems to show in the final product, that is derivative of sci-fi history and feels like an appreciation of science fiction.

The screenplay to Passengers was written by Jon Spaihts, who recently co-scripted Doctor Strange. The story was included in a list of "high value" scripts in 2007, and changed hands between The Weinstein Company and Sony Pictures (SNE), floating for years before being produced. Sony Pictures added Passengers to a long list of movies the studio has partnered with LStar Capital to produce.

While underrated, Passengers has some very interesting economic and investment dimensions that should not be overlooked. At one point Passengers' character Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) explains that the company central to the story, Homestead, made 8 quadrillion dollars on their planet colonization endeavors.

Now the investors in the audience may think, "you had me at quadrillion."

You Had Businesspeople & Science Pros At Quadrillion

From an investment and economic standpoint, Passengers is one of the more interesting films to be released in recent years and offers a glimpse into the entertainment industry's inner workings. What brave production company looked at the opening of, not just another science fiction movie: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and viewed Disney's goliath not as competition to worry about, but opportunity? Not to get too technical, but Sony Pictures' Columbia Pictures, that's who.

Furthermore, while Hollywood realizes that one of the biggest components to success is: Chance, the presentation of Passengers as a followup to moviegoers' unwrapping themselves from seeing Rogue One, two, three... a dozen times, is nice.

While the Passengers' movie review effectively holds this movie up to Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) to make scathing criticisms of Passengers' story, the root sentiment of 2001 is central to Passengers, in its own unique rite. Contextually 2001: A Space Odyssey is certainly in a class of its own, along with other science fiction masterpieces like Solaris (1972) and Solaris (2002), Passengers does diverge in its levity, however the story is comparable and thoughtful. Where some of the criticisms seem to effect the sentiment: "So what?" towards the plot of Passengers, the story originates from a similar: "What if?" that the authors of other great sci-fi stories asked.

Passengers' Homestead II (About 352 Trillion Miles Away) Between Alpha Centauri's: Proxima Centauri b (4+ Light Years Away) and Kepler-186f (560 Light Years Away)

Passengers incorporates economic, scientific, futuristic and technological themes seamlessly, and acheives a unique and entertaining style. Though some critics have taken the opposite view, some of those reviews distill down to: The reviewer did not like the fact that the main character, Jim Preston, played by Chris Pratt had a beard for part of the movie. Though ultimately there is a major affinity among the negative reviewers who strongly believe that the actress Jennifer Lawrence deserves nothing but the best, and they have reservations as to whether this was the best, and while imperfect the Passengers' film does have a valuable place in the continuum of filmmaking, regardless of some seemingly petty semantic differences, in a well articulated action adventure type science fiction story. The film may not itself be epic, though the undertones are, and that may disappoint some, however a good story does not need to be "an epic," or over produced either.

While some movies engaged evasive maneuvers to avoid competing with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, such as The Space Between Us (2017) and Hidden Figures (2016), the Passengers movie attempts to fly alongside the classic Star Wars saga. While Star Wars literally shows wars, stories like Passengers' offer different concepts that actually try to transcend, and that coincides with some great technological inventions, and clearly the Passengers' production team believed in the importance of their story in this regard.

While last year's The Martian (2015) garnered critical praise, Passengers has made less waves. Rotten Tomatoes "Critics Consensus" goes with:

"Passengers proves Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence work well together -- and that even their chemistry isn't enough to overcome a fatally flawed story."

Source: Rotten Tomatoes

Notice that the 70% favorable audience review of Passengers is based on 31,162 votes while the 30% Tomatometer is based on 187 votes. However the financial metrics of the film are obviously dwarfed by Rogue One, potentially a stronger advertisement campaign could kick Passengers into gear. Because it is an interesting film compared to Rogue One. The film, Passengers, never lets up on the concept that advancements in technology can solve major problems.

Let's compare Passengers' Rotten Tomatoes analysis to the recent movie ranking of Disney's Marvel Studios' Doctor Strange:

Source: Rotten Tomatoes

Passengers' screenwriter, Jon Spaihts, also co-wrote the script for Doctor Strange. While Passengers' director, Morten Tyldum, directed the star of Doctor Strange, Benedict Cumberbatch, in Imitation Game. While, for instance the Sandra Bullock, George Clooney tour de force, Gravity, benefited from the vast experience of director Alfonso Cuarón, Passengers' director Morten Tyldum's take on sci-fi, and stepping from computer science history to the future, happened to produce a film that has great economic importance. Though, this article is not pin pointing the specifics, so readers have an opportunity to see for themselves.

A critic could pick a plot point or scene from this movie or any movie and debate either side. It's simply surprising with Passengers, because the technological vision is interesting and aligns with the actual ideals of the businesses at the forefront of modern technology. While several recent science fiction films focus on themes of international relations & linguistics (like the recent film Arrival), or logistics of space travel, survival and rescue (like The Martian), Passengers stays small and simple while expressing an invaluably intelligent semiotic diegesis.

From an investment standpoint Passengers is worth seeing on the big screen. While some of the reviews, like the one and a half star reviews have strong words (arguably overly strong words) against the overall plot, there are stronger counter arguments, and it is unclear if some of the critics are clear on the subtext of the plot that is not exposition. The hint to explaining this opinion is to consider the artificial intelligence subtext in the plot that is not overly expressed and not fully explained at any point in the film.

While Passengers may not be overly realistic by today's standards the reason the film has value for investors is its adept, cathartic visualization of the technology that futurists and technological pioneers like Alphabet's Calico (GOOGL), Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT), Intuitive Surgical (ISRG) and companies like United Therapeutics (UTHR) and Ilumina (ILMN) hope to acheive at some point in the future.

While Tesla's (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk and Virgin Airlines founder Richard Branson have been vocal about hoping to commercialize space travel. Wired published an article: Elon Musk Announces His Plan To Colonize Mars And Save Humanity by Nick Stockton in September 2016. Passengers is a movie about the travails of doing that and is particularly interesting relative to Star Wars, because Star Wars envisions a time where there is civilization throughout the universe and Passengers tells a story of how humanity reaches beyond the stars.

Passengers: About The Future, About 352 Trillion Miles (Or Possibly 25 Trillion Miles First)

In Passengers approximately 352 trillion miles relates to the "So what?" versus "What if" argument between critical reaction and subtext. IMDb (AMZN) rates Passengers 7.1/10 based on 21,212 reactions or 3.5 stars according to Google's interpretation of the IMDb page.

If a movie was not well made (Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)) then that is one thing. Passengers was well made from the story to the screen. It seems that some critics said: "Oh yeah, Homestead II... far away, so what?" The fictitious company was designated 8 quadrillion dollar revenue, but it's a movie the script could have dreamed up any number.

If a large group of people were told that there could be a habitable planet 25 trillion miles away, some might say "so what?" Told another planet, Kepler-186f, is approximately 560 light years away, you might get another "so what?" At the rate the ship in Passengers travels that would take 1,120 years, as 560 light years is approximately 3.29 quadrillion miles away, whereas the planet in Passengers is a relatively short 352 trillion miles away it might not peak interest. Because that is far away and apparently there is no way to quantum leap right over there, you have to try to go some distance that takes awhile.

Though, what if the same group was told, hey would you like a couple quadrillion dollars? This goes back to the original publicly traded companies hundreds of years ago that bought and explored land, like The Virginia Company of London (1606-1624) and The Ohio Company (chartered 5/19/1749).

However, the importance of Passengers does not lay just in the idea of exploring other planets, while that is a realistic concept currently. It goes to the idea that at some point life could depend on knowledge, technology, chance and a couple people. What if an entire long distance space operation depended on a couple people and one got an incurable disease. That could be it, the operation would fail, unless intelligence existed to fix it in any corner for anyone. Not that it could be cured if you happen to be in the right place, it could and will be cured due to the advancement of technology. That is not specific to the film Passengers, however it is the type of "what if" that the story's calculus generates. That is precisely the type of ripple effect that pioneers of filmmaking like George Méliès (featured in Martin Scorsesee's 2011 film Hugo) envisioned in his team's original science fiction film A Trip To The Moon (1902) to the first trip to the moon in 1969.


Disclaimer: This article is not a recommendation to buy or sell. Please consult a qualified financial adviser to determine proper allocations, if any to investments.


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