Producers: Basil Iwanyk, Brendan Boyea and Neil Burger   Director: Neil Burger   Screenplay: Neil Burger   Cast: Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp, Fionn Whitehead, Colin Farrell, Chanté Adams, Viveik Kalra, Archie Madekwe, Quintessa Hempstead Wright, Madison Hu, Archie Renaux, Wern Lee, Veronica Falcón, Laura Dreyfuss and April Grace   Distributor: Lionsgate

Grade: C

A CW-like cross between “2001” and “Lord of the Flies” that’s more misguided marriage than inspired coupling, “Voyagers” posits a future in which it’s been determined that the earth will soon become uninhabitable.  In 2063 astronomers discover a planet that could serve as a place to restart the human race, but it’s much further away than the moon of Jupiter that was the destination of the expedition in Kubrick’s film, so distant that it will take a space vessel eighty-six years to reach it.

The decision about how to manage such a venture is to “man” the ship, christened Humanitas, not with adults but children.  They are created via in vitro fertilization and raised apart from any biological parents, watched over by a single guardian Richard (Colin Farrell).  The idea is that they will grow up and eventually mate on the voyage; their offspring will do likewise, and their children—the grandchildren of the original group—will reach the planet and populate it.

The intention is to send the youngsters out on their own, but Richard  becomes so protective that when the time comes for the ship to take off, after the children have reached the age of seven or so, he impulsively decides to accompany them.

Jump ahead ten years, and the group has grown into obedient, efficient teens, all dressed in practical black suits, keeping everything humming nicely under Richard’s direction.  But a problem arises when two of the boys, Christopher (Tye Sheridan) and Zac (Fionn Whitehead), discover that a blue liquid they all take every day is a drug designed to keep them docile.  The two decide to stop drinking the stuff.  The result is that they lose all their inhibitions and begin acting like reckless teens, including toward Sela (Lily-Rose Depp), the chief medical officer who temperamentally resembles Spock more than Bones. 

Richard’s discovery of what’s happened coincides with a crisis when the ship’s communication with earth is suddenly lost.  In a space walk with Christopher to fix the damage, Richard is killed by an unexplained electrical surge.  And simultaneously strange noises suggest to some that an alien presence has infiltrated the ship.

Level-headed Christopher wins election as Richard’s successor as leader, but the increasingly volatile Zac is clearly displeased with the outcome, and as all the youngsters cease to take the blue liquid, the crew devolves into lassitude punctuated by violence.  In short order they divide into two camps, with Zac and his supporters, egged on by his lieutenant Kal (Archie Madekwe), growing ever more bellicose, taking aim at Christopher, Sela and their decreasing band of straight-arrows.  Even the revelation of how Richard actually died is not enough to stabilize things. 

Given the locale, writer-director Neil Burger can’t resolve matters with the reintroduction of adult supervision, but recorded excerpts from Richard’s diaries serve as a kind of instructional manual for those who, like Christopher and Sela, are determined to restore civilized rules in opposition of Zac’s brutal fear-based anarchy, and disaster is averted.  A saccharine postscript in speeded-up footage shows how the mission turns out. 

Shot in Romania, “Voyagers” boasts a cunningly sterile production design by Scott Chambliss marked by long white corridors for the ship’s interior (which allows a few of them to suggest many more) and black unisex outfits by Bojana Nikitović that are set off nicely against them by Enrique Chediak’s glossy widescreen cinematography.  Naomi Geraghty’s editing doesn’t always keep the action ideally clear, especially in the climactic chase sequence, but Trevor Gureckis’ throbbing score does what it can to add such suspenseful touches to material that, despite the issues involved, doesn’t generate a great deal of tension.

Part of the failure in that respect results from a cast that’s physically attractive but either bland (Sheridan, Depp) or overwrought (Madekwe and especially Whitehead, who here—especially after his turn in the recent “Don’t Tell A Soul”—seems destined to permanently become the epitome of the nasty teen).  Farrell, meanwhile, is so benignly laid-back as to be somnolent.

Burger might have wanted to pose some pseudo-profound questions about human nature in “Voyagers,” but all he’s come up with is some weak sci-fi pabulum.