Monthly Archives: April 2007

Sunshine (2007) (W)

IMDb / French
Written by Alex Garland
Directed by Danny Boyle

Like most reviewers of Sunshine, I will start by going over Danny Boyle’s track record. It’s brilliant, but patchy: he made arguably the defining British film of the ’90s, Trainspotting, but followed it with an uninspired romance in A Life Less Ordinary; he also reinvented the zombie genre with 28 Days Later…, but that came after his and Garland’s horribly disappointing adaptation of The Beach. And don’t you dare get me started on Millions. Still, he’s clearly strong enough to give just about anything a decent go, which is why I was willing to see Sunshine on opening night. When he’s on, few are as good.

Cutting right to the chase, he isn’t really ‘on’ here either. In fact, I was frequently reminded of other films, some better, some worse. The plot has a much clearer narrative than 2001 (better), but aims for the same level of wonder and enlightenment. That it never quite reaches that level has a lot to do with how much the narrative owes to Event Horizon (far, far worse), what with monsters coming out of nowhere to conjure up ludicrous, yawn-inducing suspense. Like Paul W. S. Anderson & co, Boyle & Garland don’t heed 2001’s lesson that dialogue isn’t really necessary, especially if everything the characters say is purely expository. Explaining those plot elements two or even three times, however, is something every sci-fi filmmaker should know to avoid without having seen Kubrick’s legendary document, but these guys fall into it just like the studio execs were hoping they would. By the time they realise their mistake, the movie’s nearly over and we don’t really care about the characters enough to empathize with their plight.

Doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting, though. Boyle has an extremely well-honed sense of visual style, and doesn’t mind taking risks with it. He has no problem presenting extended shots of almost white brightness, the characters barely visible through the sun’s vicious rays. I mean, what kind of filmmaker happily masks the millions spent on actors and sets behind intense sprays of white light? One who knows how to create a world that looks real, that’s who. He also uses a few old tricks to very special effect – when the crew first enter the remnants of Icarus 1, the quick flashes of smiling faces on screen sent shivers down my spine.

Good though the visuals are, the film’s trump card is its sound design. A surprisingly worthwhile Underworld score provides an otherworldly, occasionally sinister undercurrent to the array of ship sounds (which contain few of the distracting bleeps and boops of space cinema). Brief sound cues like the Icarus 1’s distress signal are instantly memorable. When the film was over, I still had the music and aural atmosphere running through my head, much more profoundly than any of the remarkable images on show.

How can you go wrong with a cast that includes Murphy, Byrne, Yeoh, Sanada and Wong? By lumping them with that previously mentioned expository dialogue, which gives them very little to work with. They are reduced to a selection of (very) attractive people with practically no character. A quick look at the film’s marketing campaign shows comprehensive, fascinating back stories for every character. Why weren’t these mentioned in the film? If they had, then I would’ve given a shit whether these guys could complete their mission, and in turn I might’ve got on board with the movie’s chief aim as a psychological study. Pity the script didn’t see fit to make them as interesting as they are beautiful. And wow, are they beautiful – every last one of them

Just like the whole movie. Everything looks great, and sounds great, but somehow they lost their way and left at that. Some people might find deeper illumination here, but in defence of my position, I must restate my general mantra: get the audience to care about the characters, and you’ve got a good movie. Fail to do so, and no amount of superficial brilliance will stop most of the audience forgetting the movie in a couple of days. Sunshine is so incredibly good technically that I would be hypocritical in writing it off, given my penchant for Tarantino and Children of Men, but chalk it up as a miss. Will I go and see Boyle’s next one, though? Probably.

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FAR BEYOND THE PALE HORIZON

When news of Lindsay Hawker’s murder broke into newspapers, colleagues and friends assumed I would have a greater-than-average interest in the story, what with my going to Japan soon. They were all eager to call it to my attention and see what I thought about it.

I was as appalled as anyone by such a horrific event, but still, it’s one life gone in a world full of thousands more deaths every day. I’m not trying to be insensitive – such a senseless murder as this does merit extra attention – but it’s important to retain perspective, and not feign shock when you simply don’t feel it. As a writer (Ha Ha!) and keen observer of journalistic standards, I was more interested in how the story was being reported. (Badly.) Example:

“Mr Hawker told a press conference his daughter had researched Japan thoroughly before taking up work as an English teacher, to make sure she knew the dangers.” – BBC News

According to the Mail on Sunday, Mr. Hawker actually said “Before coming to Japan she researched extensively on the net, and we all agreed that Japan was a safe place and a good society.” Why have the BBC inserted that extra clause about ‘the dangers’? Because, in searching for a good angle for the story, the writer hit upon the idea that Japan is littered with such behaviour. Which can’t be proved, but hey, we’ll run with it because it’ll tap into people’s fear of a cultural Other.

I find it so frustrating when, in 2007, the barriers between societies are still being rigidly maintained in ways such as this. The Japan that I am aware of is home to the same kinds of unusual and antisocial behaviour as anywhere in the Western world, though it may appear to be slightly different. This behaviour isn’t brought on by overdosing on anime, hentai or Morning Musume; it’s generally the result of a mental disorder, just like some of our own suffer (but then again, we have nice barriers to keep them out, too).

Of course I say all this without having actually been to Japan. It could very well be full of slavering young men fixated on violating young, attractive Western women. But this is a blog post, a brief and poorly thought out opinion piece, whereas people like the BBC are in the business of informing people. It isn’t good enough.

The entire point of this post was to draw attention to Richard Lloyd Parry’s piece in The Times, which excellently sets out the parameters involved in the murder, its setting, and our reactions to it, before going on to provide insight about an aspect of it that most hadn’t even considered. I spent most of my time bitching (as usual), but bugger it.

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