Last night I watched 28 Weeks Later, and Sunshine. I’d heard good reports about the first, and very mixed opinion about the latter. If you haven’t seen these films you should probably not read my spoilerific reviews.
28 Weeks Later is directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and written by Rowan Joffe, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and Jesús Olmo. It starts with a terrific opening, and establishes the backstory of the guilt experienced by Donald Harris (Robert Carlyle) for abandoning his wife Alice (Catherine McCormack) when their house is attacked by the Infected. Quite soon afterwards I began to have difficulties suspending my disbelief. Just because it’s a film about a viral apocalypse doesn’t mean any old thing is credible.
28 weeks after the virus has been unleashed on the UK a military force has established a base on the Isle of Dogs in London to repatriate people to the UK. In my opinion that was a little optimistic, and probably not the safest of locations, but I ignored that for the sake of the film. Along comes Tammy (Imogen Poots) and Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton), Donald’s children, who are tearfully told by their father a version of their mother’s death.
So, Andy decides he needs a photo of his mum and that’s enough for the kids to sneak off the base and go on a joyride through London. It irritates me when in order for plot to happen characters must make a really stupid mistake. Since these are children, I can almost overlook this issue, as kids are impulsive and dumb. When they arrive they discover that mum is alive – and she’s taken into custody of the military.
Now, this is where it gets annoying. Donald has already flashed around his “access all areas pass” several times in the film so he takes off to sob over his missus. When he arrives to what I assume is a high security sealed-off quarantine area there isn’t a single solider to obstruct him, or even a camera trained on the possibly infected woman. It turns out that while the mother is immune, she is also infected, which makes her a carrier. A simple kiss transfers the disease to her husband, who then beats her into a bloody pulp before rampaging about and spreading the disease.
It continues on its merry way after that – chases, fights, biting, blood, and the spread of the disease past the UK. The acting is strong, and in particular Carlyle does a marvellous job. The cinematography and direction are effective and stylish, but the coincidences and contrivances annoyed me. Somehow, despite the firebombings, gun shots, chemical attacks, and car chases Donald manages to track the kids down for a final showdown. And can someone explain to me why Major Scarlet (Rose Byrne) leads the kids down into a subway system, and lets them go ahead of her while she tries to describe to them where to move using an infrared scope on a rifle? Another stupid mistake by a character – but it landed the film in a nice moody scene in the London underground.
Lots of people liked this film, but while there were times that I enjoyed the ride, there were several times when I was yelling at the driver about his choice of track.
So, Sunshine – where to start? It’s directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland. Some positives: good acting by a likeable cast – as usual Cillian Murphy manages to inhabit his character in an effortless way that makes him subtly convincing. Rose Byrne is in this film too, and she does a fine job with her part. There are stunning images and strong direction. Some of the design is great – I loved the golden spacesuits and how encumbered the astronauts were in them, which is used to good effect towards the end of the film.
But – the characters and their jobs are not established in the beginning, so you don’t know who does what, and why you should care about them. On viewing the deleted scenes on the DVD I noticed that several of those setup moments were omitted in the final cut, and that was a grievous mistake.
People didn’t act like rigorously trained scientists and astronauts. They don’t let any old idiot off the street join a jaunt to drop a bomb into the centre of the sun. Taking a computer offline so you can compute a change of trajectory on your own was beyond belief – that’s why computers were invented, to do the hard math and not make gigantic cock-ups. I’m sure every scientist would collapse into a ball of useless tears on the floor because all her plants were burned up – oh, she’s a woman, of course that’s believable. The shrink on the spaceship is the craziest of them – I have to wonder if a bunch of monkeys randomly selected straws to choose the crew? In plot-contrivance land it is perfectly acceptable to build a computer server room in which the servers are submerged in vats of coolant without any lids. Oops, I dropped a wrench into the vat – damn, wouldn’t a cover for these vats be useful? Oh, and if you need to manually submerge the stack of servers back into the vat you have to dive into the coolant and adjust the mechanism from underneath. Outstanding!
The real question is how these characters lasted the sixteen months before the movie looks in on them.
Why did the computer sound like a woman on the verge of orgasm?
Again and again in Sunshine people did not act like even the most ordinary of intelligent beings. In order to conserve oxygen the dwindling crew decide to off a fellow scientist – and the weapon of choice? Not an overdose of drugs, but a vibrating knife (and he doesn’t notice there were two blades missing – I noticed and I’m not a trained astronaut).
About two thirds of the way in the movie becomes a horror film. This is just too late. I have less problems with lunatic burned-up-guy than I do with the actions of the supposedly rational. He’s crazy so he has an excuse, but he acts smarter than the rest of them.
Why doesn’t the computer tell them that they have another passenger on board? Isn’t that what computers are supposed to do? Why does nobody seem to know what’s going on in their ship? It’s not like their lives are at stake or anything…
I didn’t mind the weirdness at the end – that was interesting and I think more could have been done with it. If only Boyle had decided he was making a horror film right at the beginning and hustled to the point where the monster started menacing the crew.
If you are going to rent or buy Sunshine I can recommend that you watch “Dad’s Dead”, the short film written and directed by Chris Shepard that’s included as an extra feature. It’s a cool mix of oddball animation and live action, and tells a blackly humourous tale. It made me feel better after watching Sunshine.