Danny Boyle

Sunshine

2007

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Directed by Danny Boyle

Produced by Andrew MacDonald

Written by Alex Garland

My wife Patricia got turned onto Danny Boyle when she insisted on seeing “28 Days Later” when we were on vacation in Florida.  She loved the movie, mainly because she’s a big fan of Doomsday Movies anyway.  Give her a movie where the world is going to hell and she’s sitting in the theater with a big ol’ grin on her face.   Sometimes I worry about her.  But I digress.  She would give me no peace until we saw “28 Weeks Later” which she also loved but I think she may have cooled on Danny Boyle with SUNSHINE.  Not that it’s a bad movie.  Not at all.  It’s extremely well made, the acting is solid and the special effects are state of the art.  But SUNSHINE starts out as one thing then turns into another and along the way there are so many references and homages to other science fiction movies that I’m afraid I spent more time thinking about all the other movies SUNSHINE reminded me of rather than concentrating on the actual movie itself.

It’s the year 2057 and The Earth has entered a new Ice Age (a pox on you global warming fanatics, say I!) and the nations of the world have pooled their remaining resources to build The Icarus II, a giant spaceship carrying a thermonuclear bomb the size of Manhattan.  The idea is to drop it in the sun and re-ignite the sucker.  Earth has already sent one spaceship:  The Icarus I on the same mission seven years previously but they never accomplished it as all contact was lost.  If Icarus II doesn’t succeed Earth has no more resources for an Icarus III so this crew had better get it right.

There are only eight crew members: Capa (Cillian Murphy) who designed the bombs.  Captain Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada)  Navigator Trey (Benedict Wong) Pilot Cassie (Rose Byrne).  The psychiatrist Searle (Cliff Curtis) Communications/First Officer Harvey (Troy Garrity) Engineer Mace (Chris Evans) and the botanist Corazon (Michelle Yeoh) who tends the ship’s hydroponics oxygen garden that helps recycle the air.  They’ve formed a strong bond in the time they’ve been together due to the urgency of their mission.  A mission that after 18 months is reaching its end.  But everything is changed by their receiving a distress signal from Icarus I which has been locked in orbit around Mercury all these years.  The decision is made to rendezvous with Icarus I in order to secure their bomb and therefore drop ‘em both into the sun.  The idea being that two huge honkin’ bombs will be better than just one.

Now obviously none of these crew members have ever seen “Alien” or they would have known what happens when you deviate from your mission profile.  Things go horribly wrong.  And so they do for the crew of the Icarus II.  It’s just one damn thing after another as the crew makes mistakes that result in them losing much of their precious oxygen.  So much in fact that it’s doubtful that even if they complete their mission they’ll be able to get back to Earth.  They get aboard the Icarus I and find that the crew, following ‘God’s will’ destroyed their computer, disabled the bomb and committed mass suicide.  The navigator makes a crucial error that results in the death of a crew member and he goes suicidal.  In fact, for every mistake the crew makes, somebody dies.  Valiantly they go on with their mission but their chances of completing it get even smaller as it soon becomes apparent that something from Icarus I has come onboard the Icarus II and this something is more than willing to help the already frightened crew of the Icarus II die.

The first half of SUNSHINE reminded me of a couple of other science fiction movies: “2001: A Space Odyssey”  “2010” “Solaris” and most notably “Silent Running”.  There’s also heavy “Alien” influences, including a scene with the Icarus II crew sharing a meal together that is so much like a similar scene from “Alien” that I’m convinced they’re using the same utensils from that earlier film.  And I was even more reminded of “Alien” in the second half of the movie where the crew has to fight for their lives against a hideously bloodthirsty entity that is bent on killing them off.   But it’s that second half that threw me off as I was really enjoying the first half of the movie.

Let me explain: back when I was growing up, the term ‘Science Fiction Movie’ meant something quite different from what it means now.  Somewhere around the time “Predator” hit the screens, science fiction movies mutated into action thrillers with science fiction elements tossed in for flavor.   But before then, science fiction movies were a totally different animal.  And I think that with SUNSHINE Danny Boyle and his writer Alex Garland (who I understand is a legitimate science fiction writer) were trying to do an honest-to-Arthur C. Clarke-science fiction epic with solid characterizations.  But I don’t think they had they conviction to go all the way through with it as they turn the last half of the movie into a bloody carnage of mayhem and murder when in the first half they’d set it up so well that the crew’s problems were caused by their own human failings.

I’m never going to warm up to Cillian Murphy, I guess.  I liked him well enough in “28 Days Later” and “Batman Begins” but I’m not about to break my hump rushing out to see a movie just because he’s in it.  I was much happier to see Michelle Yeoh here.  Having been a fan of hers since I saw her co-starring with Jackie Chan in “Supercop” I was pleased to see her in a role where she had a chance to do some acting and not just kick ass every ten minutes.  Chris Evans is probably my favorite actor in this movie as he’s the obligatory Only Guy Who Makes Sense.  You know what I’m talking about.  In a movie of this sort there’s always one guy who knows what he’s talking about and always tells the others: “Well, if we do this, we’re going to screw up.” They don’t listen to him. They screw up.  Then they come to him to pull their collective asses out of the pit of alligators they’ve fallen into.  Which he does so only so he can say; “I told you so”  It also tickled me to death that the guy who plays The Human Torch in the “Fantastic Four” movies is on a mission to reignite The Sun.

So should you see SUNSHINE?  I would say yes if for no other reason than it’s an interesting throwback of a film to a time when science fiction movies were more about ideas, concepts and characterizations than eye-popping action sequences.  I liked how the scientist characters in this movie acted like scientists and not action heroes.  I’m not sure if the ending worked for me but then again, I’m not sure I understood the ending.  It’s got all the right elements that a good science fiction movie should have.  I just wish it hadn’t changed gears so abruptly halfway through the movie and had the courage to continue on with its theme of human fallibility in the face of cosmic finality rather than turning into a big-budget remake of “It Came From Outer Space” in the clutch.

Rated: R

108 minutes

28 Days Later

2002

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Directed by Danny Boyle

Produced by Andrew Macdonald

Written by Alex Garland

The world of 28 DAYS LATER will be very familiar to those of us who have watched End of the World classics such as “The World, the Flesh and The Devil” and “The Omega Man”.  People are fascinated by the idea of the World As We Know It Coming To An End.  And 28 DAYS LATER does a truly awesome job of not only convincing us of the reality of what we’re watching, it makes us think about the destructiveness of human nature.  There is nothing in the movie that does not occur save through human arrogance and failure.  Arrogance in our stubborn belief that we can control forces best left alone and failure through our refusal to maintain belief in our better instincts.

28 DAYS LATER starts off like that great classic sci-fi film, “The World, The Flesh and The Devil”. Remember that one?  The first 20 minutes or so of that movie had Harry Belafonte wandering through an eerily deserted New York, looking for people and not finding a living soul.  That’s the exact same situation that confronts the main character of this movie.  Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a hospital with no memory of how he got there and after unplugging himself from the various machines he’s been hooked up to and finding clothes, Jim leaves the hospital and wanders into a London that seems devoid of people.  Jim desperately tries to find out what has happened and runs into a pack of red-eyed humans who act like total homicidal maniacs.  He is rescued by Selena (Naomi Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley) who inform him that 28 days ago, England was consumed by a plague called Rage which turns those Infected by it into murderous maniacs who only want to kill.  There is no cure.  There is no hope that anyone will find a cure.  The only thing left is to survive and slay.

Even in this horrifying situation, there are those with hope.  Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns) join up with Jim and Selena (notice I didn’t mention Mark?  Don’t ask what happens to him. Not pretty, yo) and decide to get out of London.  Frank has picked up radio signals from the north from an Army outpost that promises food, shelter and safety from the roving packs of Infected who dominate London.  And they leave London on a road trip to Hope that leads right into Hell.

28 DAYS LATER has been compared to George Romero’s zombie movies and to be honest, there are several scenes and plot elements that appear to have been lifted straight from “DAWN OF THE DEAD”.  I’m thinking of the scene in the supermarket that mirrors the mall-shopping scene in the Romero movie and the whole second half of the movie where our heroes are at odds with the military who they were hoping would keep them safe.  In fact, that’s an entire subplot in itself of the movie: how our reliance on institutions and people we have been programmed to believe will keep us safe turn on us and devour us.  The most frightening monsters in 28 DAYS LATER are not The Infected as we are led to believe. No…the real monsters in this movie are the human beings like us.  As we watch what they are driven to in order to survive, you gradually realize something that is truly scary: it’s the so-called normal humans who are doing the most frightening things to each other.

The movie is filmed with hand held cameras in a realistic, documentary-like fashion that draws you into the reality of what is going on.  Naomie Harris is particularly good as Selena and she demonstrates in one brutally violent scene that she is a sista that is out to survive.  It’s a remarkable scene and you’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it.  Cillian Murphy is also quite good as Jim and one of the most horrifying things about the movie is watching as he rapidly adapts to this new world he’s woken up to.  In fact, I don’t think there is a bad acting job in this entire movie.  28 DAYS LATER hooks you right from the start and you just sit there and are just assaulted by the raw realism that an unthinkable situation is presented.  Is 28 DAYS LATERworth your time and your money?  Hell, yes.  It’s a brutally intelligent horror movie that in light of our world today doesn’t seem all that all far away from where we are now.

28 DAYS LATER isn’t as gory or as bloody as you might have been led to believe.  In fact, “BAD BOYS II” had more violent scenes that disturbed me than this movie.  The violence in 28 DAYS LATER is quite appropriate to the subject matter and supports the story and characters.  Have a  good time being scared outta your ya-ya.

112 Minutes

Rated R