Shiny Shelf


By Eddie Robson on 06 April 2007

It’s odd that new films directed by Danny Boyle aren’t bigger events in Britain. He’s one of the few really talented and distinctive directors we’ve got who hasn’t absconded to Hollywood to take advantage of the bigger budgets and higher profile.

Yet the fact remains that he’s never been totally embraced by the British critical community: even when ‘Trainspotting’ was becoming Britain’s hippest film for decades, some critics grumbled that Boyle was just pastiching flash American films. Sour grapes perhaps, but it became an orthodoxy when his next two movies, ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ and ‘The Beach’, emerged. Boyle wanted to be an American filmmaker, but he just wasn’t good enough, they said – and we could all rest easy, knowing that the danger of having to be enthusiastic about someone in the British film industry had safely passed. Phew.

Boyle’s films since ‘The Beach’ have revealed that, in a sense, he is an American-style director – but not in the way he’s often been thought to be. He’s a genre filmmaker who, when he adapted ‘Trainspotting’, was mistaken for yet another British ‘gritty’ social realist. ‘Shallow Grave’ is a crime story, ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ is a romantic comedy, ’28 Days Later’ is a zombie apocalypse thriller and ‘Millions’ is a kids’ film. Rather than ploughing the same furrow as celebrated British-based directors tend to, Boyle has chosen to flaunt his versatility.

Doubtless there will be some who complain that ‘Sunshine’, funded by the UK Film Council, is full of American accents. However, that doesn’t stop it from being a very individual and very good sci-fi movie. For the most part it takes a realist approach to the genre, depicting space travel as difficult and risky: the technology involved in its plot, about a last-ditch mission to reignite the Sun after a collision with ‘dark matter’ weakens it, is largely grounded in genuine technology (though I say this as someone who has only a basic layman’s knowledge of such things). There are strong echoes of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, and Boyle is not unlike a less cold and distant Kubrick. He was a genre filmmaker at heart, too.

The drama is generated mainly by the high stakes, and it’s here that the movie really succeeds. It’s highly encouraging for sci-fi cinema that a movie like this can get made – if the CGI is affordable, you really can do this sort of thing on the cheap, because you only need a few sets for the interiors. In fact, the film benefits from the sense of claustrophobia. Everything is done with conviction, and it’s not entirely downbeat: there’s room for a few jokes. But dear God, this is an intense film. I don’t think I’ve ever been so on edge whilst watching a movie. I’d say it was slightly more harrowing than ‘Children of Men’, in fact, because it never lets up: it’s just crisis after crisis.

This could well be the film that restores Boyle’s reputation (though Alex Garland deserves much credit for an excellent script, balancing nihilism and optimism). It’s certainly getting great feedback so far and it gets an unqualified recommendation from us: it’s excellent sci-fi without the trappings that put a lot of people off sci-fi (rather like ‘Children of Men’ in that respect), and as such is a far more interesting and significant thing than the majority of what British cinema produces.

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By Eddie Robson

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