words and art by w a l t e r w s m i t h

Weekly Movie-Making Moments in Film: Sunshine / 28 Days Later / District 9

Sunshine by director Danny Boyle

The sun at less than 1% sunlight filter

Sunshine is a 2007 British science fiction film directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland.

In 2057 the sun is dying, and mankind is dying with it. Our last hope: a spaceship and a crew of eight men and women. They carry a device, a massive stellar bomb with the mass equivalent to Manhattan Island, which will breathe new life into the star. But deep into their voyage, out of radio contact with Earth, their mission is starting to unravel. There is an accident, a fatal mistake, and a distress beacon from a spaceship that disappeared seven years earlier. Soon the crew is fighting not only for their lives, but their sanity.

The crew is made up of an ensemble cast consisting of Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis, Troy Garity, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong, Chipo Chung, and Mark Strong. The script was based on a scientific back-story that took the characters on a psychological journey. The director cast a group of international actors for the film, and had the actors live together and learn about topics related to their roles, as a form of method acting. To have the actors realistically react to visual effects that would be implemented in post-production, the filmmakers constructed live sets to serve as cues. Previous science fiction films that Boyle cited as influences included Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the 1972 Tarkovsky’s Solaris, and the 1979 science-fiction horror film Alien.

Sunshine is one of my favorite films of all time. I have seen it several times and it never ceases to entertain me as I embrace its stunning beauty.

I was first introduced to the filmmaking of Danny Boyle in 2003 with his kinetic, apocalyptic and frightening horror film 28 Days Later: In the film a powerful virus is unleashed following a raid on a primate research facility by animal rights activists. Transmitted in a drop of blood, the virus locks those infected into a permanent state of murderous rage. Within 28 days the country is overwhelmed and a handful of survivors begin their attempts to salvage a future, little realizing that the virus is not the only thing that threatens them.

28 Days Later by Danny Boyle

The only other film in recent production, I feel parallels Sunshine in its originality and vision is District 9 by Peter Jackson and Neill Bloomkamp.

District 9 synopsis: Over 20 years ago, aliens made first contact with Earth. Humans waited for the hostile attack, or the giant advances in technology. Neither came. Instead, the aliens were refugees, the last survivors of their home world. The creatures were set up in a makeshift home in South Africa’s District 9 as the world’s nations argued over what to do with them. Now, patience over the alien situation has run out. Control over the aliens has been contracted out to Multi-National United (MNU), a private company uninterested in the aliens’ welfare – they will receive tremendous profits if they can make the aliens’ awesome weaponry work. So far, they have failed; activation of the weaponry requires alien DNA.

The tension between the aliens and the humans comes to a head when an MNU field operative, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), contracts a mysterious virus that begins changing his DNA. Wikus quickly becomes the most hunted man in the
world, as well as the most valuable – he is the key to unlocking the secrets of alien technology. Ostracized and friendless, there is only one place left for him to hide: District 9.

District 9 by Peter Jackson and Neill Bloomkamp

The roundup in District 9

All three films are distinctly different in their subject matter, but are so well acted, produced, and directed it is difficult to choose one over the other as a favorite.

So what do you think? Are you a big fan of the Science Fiction genre? Have you seen any of these remarkable films, and if so do you have a favorite? And what is your favorite film of this genre and why?

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4 responses

  1. TY for letting me know about this film. I will go rent it and watch it. Danny Boyle is an excellent director an his work on Slumlord Millionaire was awesome. 🙂

    September 18, 2011 at 8:20 am

    • Hi Liz,
      All of the Danny Boyle films have something powerful to say. And each film touches on a unique subject. I would also recommend his film Millions (two young British youths who find a million dollars after it is accidently dropped from a plane flying above) and his first featured film which got a lot of critical acclaim Trainspotting. However, Trainspotting is a rather dark film with a lot of drug use. Perhaps not your cup of tea 🙂

      September 18, 2011 at 8:29 am

  2. Sunshine and 28 Days Later are two of my favourite films also!
    Both films have a haunting, pervading sense of isolation and the feeling of being an incredibly small and insignificant entity in a wide open space. Yet both films are still hugely different to each other.
    I think space-horror is one of the most effective sub genres of horror, fuelled predicatbly by our fear of the unknown, but also the feeling of being disconnected from home.
    The only other kind of successful horror are ones where humans are the creatures to fear. In 28 Days Later, it is not the disease addled “zombies” who provide the terror- though they do provide kicks. It’s the humans surviving on the fringes of fallen society who are somehow far more terrible.
    I probably shouldn’t confess this, but it’s one of the few films in which the violence actually thrills me- the bit towards the end. It’s shocking and horrible, but seems so necessary and is executed in such an abandoned way.
    I love the work of both Alex Garland and Danny Boyle.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:14 am

    • Hi Ailis, we are certainly on the same page, when it comes to the films of Danny Boyle. When the film 28 Days Later came out, it was voted in the top 10 in the film catergory by Art in America. I remember how thought-provoking the film left me for the very reasons you stated i.e. the lost humanity; the violence that humans bring upon themselves, both physical and psychologically, all in the name of survival. Sunshine also exhibited this same reasoning to some degree. i.e. “The God Complex”. But strangely enough there was a lot of hope for the sustainablity of humanity in a positive, not negative way.

      If you have not seen District 9, I highly recommend it. It touches on the inhumanity of our movtivations as a society as well. It is vivid in its horror, and in its sense of despair.

      September 26, 2011 at 11:54 am

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