Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Revisiting the Favs: Sunshine

Danny Boyle's "Sunshine" ranked number 7 on my favs of 2007 list.

It's doubtful that with director Danny Boyle winning the Oscar two years ago that any stock for his previous film, "Sunshine", will find itself on the rise. Pretty much left for dead at the box office and ignored critically, "Sunshine", quite simply, took my breath away the first time I saw it. Ostensibly a science fiction film that veers madly into the territory of slasher flick, this abrupt genre shift was too much for many viewers to handle. I personally found its verve exhilerating. Not only did Boyle manage to nail the science fiction part of the story (the race to repair parts of the ship.... moments of tension as people scatter towards the hatch doors... a genuine sense of camradarie with the astronauts etc) but when the film does morph into something darker and bloodier, it does so with violent purpose.

Starring an eclectic cast typically assembled by Boyle (Cillian Murphy and Rose Byrne), the idea that Earth's sun is fading is straight out of a 1930's comic book. The crew's mission is to launch a nuclear device on the sun to invigorate its energy... or something like that. Based on a script written by another Boyle alum, Alex Garland, "Sunshine's" plot is pretty outrageous, yet the cast sells it. There's the aged doctor (Clifton Collins in a really haunting performance), the botanist (Michelle Yeoh) and the strong military type (Chris Evans) who have to learn to adapt and eventually survive as one disaster after another strikes the ship. And just when one thinks outer space can't get any more strenuous, writer Garland injects a bit of "Nightmare of Elm Street" into the mix, creating a high-wire act that walks the line between cosmically poetic and grindhouse exploitation.

Holding the entire project together is Boyle's stylistic direction, full of disorienting lens flares, moments of suffocating darkness juxtaposed against light, and distorted camera angles that mimics the extremes of the story. Along with JJ Abrams' "Star Trek", its becoming hip to infuse the sci-fi genre with a visually aggressive template.

Boyle has long been the reviver of genre. His two 'zombie' films, "28 Days Later" and "28 Weeks Later" are pitch perfect examples of a tired genre getting a much needed shot to the arm. I suppose it was only a matter of time before his efforts could be applied to the sci-fi genre. Give it a chance.

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