"You should always take risks… You take that risk because you
have a vision that is different. And you must always take that risk."
Sunshine Director, Danny Boyle
hard to fault that kind of philosophy from an outsider film-maker.
If you have that work ethic as an insider, odds are you've
made your first and last big budget movie. Doing it the
same way, three cherries held, time after time has eroded
Hollywood's artistic licence and CG has largely shown up
certain imaginations for the paltry things they are. Boyle
hit a home run with Trainspotting and after
a few unsatisfactory Hollywood dalliances, he took another
risk and shot a low budget movie on digital video in a dreary
dis-United Kingdom that made ten times its money back on
its theatrical run alone. The terrific zippy-zombie movie, 28 Days Later has even spawned its own
sequel. Boyle plays it both ways - he satisfies his own
muse and still manages to please enough punters and execs
to keep his directorial flag flying. But, naturally, the
bigger budgets are attractive and taking risks with many
more millions at stake, while being a subversive and loftier
artistic ambition, can make, break or arrest a directorial
So then it's very odd to report that all the risks Boyle
takes in this 'spaceship-tries-to-kickstart-the-sun' movie
are stylistic ones, risks with no meat on their narrative
bones; flash frames, freeze frames, colour grading at def-con-Tony-Scott
level 12. The collars of the new suit may be daringly longer
than usual but they are made of the same material. The story
and milieu are tried and tested. It's 2057. An assortment
of scientists, astronauts and a blue-eyed physicist (Cillian
Murphy from Doyle's 28 Days Later) are
en route to the sun to save the Earth by blowing up a whole
lot of very big bombs inside the star, to reignite it. So
far, so sf fan-boy.
has clearly soaked up his fair share of classics and the
rag tag group all quietly riff off Alien's
character dynamics. For reasons not stated (is this a risk?),
very early on the hero has got into a fight with hero No.
2, Chris Evans, whose relationship with fire seems a defining
career trait (he plays Johnny "Flame On!" Storm
in The Fantastic Four). Now, help me out
here. These eight folks are mankind's last hope - the crème
de la crème who've had the ultimate in training and
they are fist-fighting in their space ship's corridors?
Isn't that, uh... (forgive me) kind of un-NASA-sary? The
women blithely accept their male colleagues' nod to neanderthalism
but do not stare open mouthed as I sort of expected them
too. Maybe we're not that evolved after all.
plonks us straight in to the action and makes us work for
some of the narrative. Very little is explained and he comes
very close to breaking a golden rule that I used to think
was very important. Knowing a little more about cinema outside
of Spielberg and Cameron, I'm prepared to bend the rule
a bit but perhaps not in Sunshine's case.
This rule is "Sacrifice everything for clarity."
If an audience does not follow what is going on (three times
this movie sucker punched me I'm ashamed to say. It was
either the movie or I'm not reading films the way I used
to, maybe a little of both) then this can only fuel feelings
of resentment and that sits very badly with movie appreciation.
Let's not apply that rule to surrealists like Bunüel
and his ant covered stigmata (who'd dare?) but Sunshine is pure Hollywood DNA (with a sheen of Britishness) and
leaving your audience gawping "But wait a minute…"
can never be good, could it? I adored the production design
(the effects as expected are a treat) and I took a lot on
faith but by the time a certain character turns up spouting
on about God of all things, (I thought I was the one taking
things on faith) the movie took a sharp right into a blinding
alley from which it never really was able to reverse.
don't want to give anything away but when you jettison rational
science that has been your mainstay for 70 minutes, I think
your audience has a right to get a bit piqued at the insertion
of a new character with superhuman powers of survival and
a very strong line in utter gobbledegook which has no rational
narrative reason to exist. The internal logic has been blown
into cold, airless space. Before you point at 2001 and say "Well, we all saw that Louis Quatorze furniture
coming, didn't we, huh?" 2001's Bowman
took a journey into extraterrestrial space so we were in
effect, primed for anything. Again, is this the risk that
Boyle means? Yes, there are philosophical elements that
are intriguing but to just plonk a naked, raving human shish-kebab
into the movie who's gone nuts staring at the sun - and
is filmed so you never get a good look at him - just seems
arbitrary in the most "Say, what?" sense. Is this
capriciousness risky? Does non sense make artistic sense?
OK, the God-bothering loony was out of the blue but it felt
akin to having Tinkerbelle turn up in Dead Man's
Shoes. There seemed to be no other reason for his
existence than the mission needed someone to screw things
up. Gravity aside, Sunshine seemed to be
remarkably solid which made Mr. Crispy's presence all the
admire Boyle's work and that includes his impressive TV
career. Let's not forget he produced Alan Clarke's Elephant and directed the best Inspector Morse of
all, Masonic Mysteries. But I cannot reconcile
Boyle's passion for Sunshine when it shows
no real narrative experimentation or event that you could
not see coming 92 million miles off. That's the curse of
the set up of 'space rescue missions'. The only thing that
you could say about Armageddon in terms
of surprise was just how testicle-tighteningly awful it
was. Deep Impact was profoundly po-faced
but all these movies play by the numbers. The "Oh,
they must go out in space without a space suit!" sequence
is handled superbly well in Boyle's movie but at the climax,
characters move without any real sense of where they are
going nor why. Yes, I want to work out some of it for myself
but not basic mise-en-scene. I want the film-maker to tell
me a story not for me to work out what's supposed to be
assumed to have happened next. How can I come to care? How
can I figure out what's happening? I couldn't even explain
the final five minutes (the last minute no problem but even
that had a "Huh?" aspect to it as in how could
it be so banal after all that sunny surreality)?
Sunshine is a technical tour de force and an interesting work by
a strong talent but seemingly hampered by some wayward and
irrational script assertions and directorial ambitions to
do Kubrickian things with form and not quite succeeding.
Part of the handicap is that Kubrick could innovate in 1968
and in 2007, we have experimented with form up the MTV kazoo
so originality is marginalised and not now judged by how
many jump cuts or subliminal frames there are contained
between the front and end credits. Someone known for his
technical brilliance has figured that out and I for one
will be in line for David Fincher's Zodiac.
the meantime watch this space (but bring shades)…