When Passengers was being sold to audiences last September it was billed as being a romantic comedy in space, with a bit of tension built in because of course problems come up.
To recap, Chris Pratt plays Jim, one of 5,000 people aboard a massive starship heading to a colony planet. When something goes wrong and he wakes up 90 years before the end of the trip he opts to intentionally wake up Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), another passenger who just happens to be a beautiful young woman whom he wants for some companionship. Eventually she finds out the truth of what happened, but that’s just before they realize the ship is slowly shutting down, potentially killing everyone aboard. So they have to get past their issues to save themselves and the rest of the ship.
If that sounds nothing like the trailers or rest of the campaign that’s not surprising. Sony kept the fact that Jim is the one who wakes up Aurora – essentially dooming her to die aboard the ship decades before it reaches its destination – out of the marketing entirely. But it’s the first thing critics and audiences latched on to and is widely seen as one of the big reasons the movie flopped at the box office.
It’s not just that this story point is hidden, it’s that it’s completely misrepresented in the trailer and elsewhere. That trailer, along with the campaign as a whole, makes it seem like Jim and Aurora both wake up around the same time and find they’re stuck together, making the best of their situation and the fact that they are both ridiculously attractive people. Missing entirely is that Jim is a creep who wants a fake girlfriend who’s completely beholden to him. Though to be fair, even the story barely deals with this and eventually brings the two together in a romantic happy ending.
In this day of focusing on consent and choice it’s not hard to see how the story of Jim taking Aurora’s ability to decide her own fate away from her didn’t go over well. And it doesn’t require much spin to read the ending as Aurora not finding contentedness in her situation but sympathizing with her rapist, something that’s not a great position to take right now.
The studio sent Pratt and Lawrence on a charm offensive publicity tour to drum up public interest, but even that couldn’t overcome the negative word of mouth that came out of reviews and early screenings. Not surprising since the campaign completely mis-sold the movie that was released.