Released: 8th April
Seen: 16th August
In 1954, William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies was released and quickly became a cultural phenomenon that would become so well known that the title of the book is able to describe almost any group of people devolving into a mass of internal conflict and violence. You may also be aware of the multiple movies that’ve been adapted from it or, possibly more likely, the Simpsons version of it in the episode Das Bus (Season 9, so back when the show was universally considered “Good”). It’s a classic story that lends itself well to adaptation provided you have a charismatic young cast and can do something interesting to the material that’s been adapted multiple times… and here we find the issues that plague Voyagers.
Voyagers takes place mostly on a spaceship on a trip from Earth to a new planet that can hopefully sustain human life. The problem with this trip is that it will take 86 years, meaning in order for anyone to make the trip there will have to be multiple generations born on the ship. The first batch of 30 kids is genetically created on the ship and soon become teenagers, meaning they have serious responsibilities to maintain the ship and other assorted chores.
At some point, one of the 30 teenagers discovers that the water that they’ve been drinking is laced with a special chemical that’s been designed specifically to keep their emotions in check to avoid them succumbing to their basic urges… so naturally they stop taking this chemical (which appears to be in the water they drink, the only liquid they are seen drinking throughout Voyagers) and slowly their urges come back, the urge to experiment sexually (albeit while completely clothed) or engage in frivolous hand to hand fights or to do murder… you know, like Lord of the Flies because that’s what this is.
As a concept this should all be fine, after all it’s worked before so logically it should work now, right? Well, the problem is that we all know the story of Lord of the Flies so well that even if you’ve never read the book, you get the general gist of it and Voyagers plays like someone who read the outline of Lord of Flies and just wrote “That, but in space” in the margins. It’s almost identical in terms of story meaning there’s no surprise or intrigue because we know how this story ends and can call almost every single moment.
Also not helping is just how bland everyone is. The characters are less “original interesting characters” and more “blank slates used to fill in the roles found in the story of Lord of the Flies”. You’ve possibly noticed that I haven’t said a single character name by now… yeah, that’s cos they don’t matter. Most of the cast is background extras, Colin Ferrell is “The one expensive actor we could hire who will last exactly one act of the film”, Tye Sheridan is “Kind lead character we’re meant to identify with”, Fionn Whitehead is “The bad guy who starts the bad things happening” and Lily Rose Depp is “The girl that the lead character and bad guy both like, thus creating the original conflict”. That’s it, they have names but they don’t matter. They barely have characters, everyone else just kind of exists.
Now, you might say “Well the reason they’re so bland is because of that drugging you mentioned at the beginning of this review” but I’d like to point out one key thing… they’re bland throughout Voyagers, which is most of the problem. The change from “Drugged” to “Evil degenerates” is honestly not that much, at least in terms of how the actors perform them. Even when they try to do things like an attempted rape it’s handled so poorly that it’s not shocking, it just elicits a “Why did you do that?” when it should have me cowering from fear about what happened to these kids.
There is almost a moment where Voyagers has an idea, right after they stop taking the drugs and shock themselves with wires because they can finally experience pleasure… that idea alone has so much potential, hedonism gone amuck with a bunch of young adults fully exploring what their bodies can do and the potential horror associated with it. This should’ve gone for something much more extreme, gone even further than the source material did and make this actually horrific on every level but they were too afraid to go to the places they imply they wanna go. Instead we get fully clothed hugging with some weird grunting thrown on top and a shooting that’s so clean it almost takes a minute to realise there’s a wound.
Voyagers is a movie about young adults learning they can have feelings and not knowing how to handle it, is it too much to ask that they try to be almost as extreme as an average episode of Riverdale? Glee had more hardcore moments than Voyagers does, and Glee once had its cast sing What Does The Fox Say? Can’t even match that in terms of… anything. Amazingly, Voyagers is an MA15+ in Australia and I just want to know what specific drugs were being smoked in the ratings office the day they decided that this film was worthy of that kind of a rating. I’ve seen more sex and violence in your average episode of Law and Order, except Law and Order has interesting characters.
Voyagers is a bad remake of a classic that had potential to do something interesting with its material. Using a novel as a point of reference is one thing, but this is such an obvious ripoff of Lord of the Flies that William Goldberg should get a story credit. Putting it in space added nothing, in fact it actually makes things worse because at least Goldberg had the common sense to put his characters in a completely hopeless scenario before making them go insane while Voyagers just decides to make these characters be a little bored and not want to do their jobs… boo hoo, your job was to entertain me and you didn’t do that job either.