I admit, I have not seen the new movie Passengers. I have, however, read what the plot is about from various places, including this nicely detailed account. When I heard the basic story, it reminded me of something. Something I saw in an old book about spaceships. A comic. A weird, creepy, old ‘50s comic.
Since you sort of need to know what happens in the movie to appreciate any of this, there’s about to be spoilers. So here’s your warning! I’m going to spoil the crap out of the movie! Run! Hide!
Okay, now that any spoilerphobes are gone, lets get to it. Here’s the basic storyline of the movie: there’s a bunch of people on an interstellar spaceship making a 120-year journey to another planet to colonize. Since everyone on the ship is hoping to arrive while still metabolizing, the passengers are placed in hibernation, the kind of thing we’ve seen in space travel movies for decades.
So, everyone is in stasis in their pods when an astroid hits the ship and causes just enough damage to make one guy’s pod, Chris Pratt’s character, a technician on the spaceship, fail. It wakes him up a good 90 years too early, and the design of the pods means he can’t just fix it and get back in.
So, Pratt’s going to have to live a lonely life until he dies before everyone else wakes up. That’s a raw deal. After about a year of wanking it and enjoying all the amenities on the ship, Pratt’s character eventually gives in and defrosts another passenger, Jennifer Lawrence’s character, in the hopes that he’ll have someone to share his life with and, you know, bone.
Of course, doing so is essentially condemning her to die the same lonely way he will, and she’s not getting any say in the matter.
Anyway, there’s more that happens after this, but this is the crux that the whole plot is based on: guy wakes up way too early from hibernation, makes the decision to wake up a woman to be his companion, hilarity ensues and all that.
Got it? Great. Now, look at this. It’s a comic called 50 Girls 50 by Al Williamson and Al Feldstein published in the July-August 1953 issue of Weird Science.
This comic was actually the cover story of the issue, and you can get the gist pretty quickly: one guy, surrounded by 50 frozen hot ‘50s comic-book ladies, all his for the defrosting.
The comic tells the story of a guy named Sid, a technician on a spaceship sent on a 100-year journey to another planet. Sid’s in charge of the Deep Freeze hibernation units, and he has a pretty devious plan: he’s arranged to have his hibernation unit wake him up only two years into the journey, and then after that he’s going to work his way through the 50 women on the ship, defrosting one a year, enjoying their company until he gets bored, then killing them and defrosting another.
Sid’s a sick fuck.
Aside from the serial-rape-and-murder parts, this is essentially the same basic plot kernel as Passengers. Sure, Chris Pratt’s guy was woken by accident, and he has no plans to work his way through the crew, becoming a serial killer and destroying the entire mission, but Pratt’s character does make the same crucial decision to condemn someone to a lonely life and death.
The comic is actually way darker and more bizarre, with Sid actually plotting with one of the women on the ship to make everyone else slaves, but they double-cross one another and end up both dead, and it just makes you feel like the real point of this mission was for Earth to send 100 of its most murderous assholes away the fuck into space.
I’m not the only one to notice this strange connection: the British website Metro also noted the 50 Girls 50 connection, but I haven’t seen anything official from the studio to suggest that this was an acknowledged inspiration.
The screenplay was written by Jon Spaihts, who Wikipedia says is a “go-to guy for space thrillers,” and I have not found anything yet to suggest that he’s even seen this old comic.
Are ‘50s pulp magazines the new secret go-to for ideas for movie plots? I think I heard the basic plot for Manchester by the Sea was ripped off entirely from a comic in the 1954 issue of Amazing Stories called Revenge of the Erotic Clam People.