Danny Boyle sends a group of astronauts–Cillian Murphy, Michelle Yeoh, and Rose Byrne among them–on a mission to deliver a giant nuke in order to restart our dying star and save mankind. Confined to a ship that instantly brings to mind 2001‘s Discovery, they send video greetings to their families and tend to Silent Running oxygen gardens. But no matter how many millions of miles from home, when a distress signal arrives, it’s clear that we’re in some very familiar territory: lethal space walks, ticking countdowns, mysterious ghost ships, malfunctioning life support systems, a computer with a melodious voice denying urgent requests, tripped-out deep-space epiphanies. Nothing new under the sun.

At a post-screening Q&A at Tribeca Cinemas this week, Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later) made it clear that he is very much hip to the sci-fi classics. Like the crew of the Ikarus II hiding out behind their giant space umbrella, Sunshine labors in the shadow of Kubrick’s 2001 and Tarkovsky’s Solaris — and the books by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanislaw Lem they were based on — with some additional nods to Ridley Scott’s Alien. Perhaps it’s not even possible to send people into space without referring to these touchstone films, and yet, the question remains: why has it been decades since anybody managed to put a brand-new spin on the genre? Fox Searchlight respectfully asks critics to keep mum about the third-act revelations and reversals that work hard to keep Sunshine surprising, but really, there’s no need: if you’ve watched any sci-fi at all, you have seen it before.

Which is not to say Sunshine isn’t a handsomely crafted, engaging, even nerve-wrecking space adventure. The CGI sun, seen through the filtered glass of the ship’s observation deck or shooting over the edge of the heat shield, is a blast of glorious, almost supernatural light. Boyle also does an outstanding job at vividly rendering the astronauts’ extreme vulnerability to the elements. The burning heat of the stars, the razor cold of space, everything is orders of magnitude more threatening than on Earth. The plant life on board the ship in particular becomes more precious than ever. Surely, this heightened state of perception is one of the reasons we go to the movies in the first place. So what if Kubrick already said it all? Set the controls for the heart of the sun anyway. Sunshine will open in the US on July 20.

Sunshine. Danny Boyle, 2007. ***

Bonus videos: Pink Floyd at Pompeii, the trailer, and–just because he happened to turn up in the search–Bill Withers.

Batman Begins

Pompous & bloated. When was it decided that superhero comics were now to be treated like Shakespearean tragedies? Oh, the agony of being Bruce Wayne, playboy millionaire with a bat complex! The guilt, the fear, the fateful choice between vigilantism and revenge! Even Ang Lee’s Hulk had some jokes (and primary colors.)

Perhaps the thudding seriousness would be acceptable if the movie wouldn’t keep asking us to believe more and more outrageous conceits: first there’s the bat thing, then there’s a secret clan of ninja criminals, a stolen superweapon, a mad doctor who uses bummer hallucinogens to attack a city that only exists in a comic book universe… and most ludicrous of all, we’re supposed to buy that Katie Holmes is a D.A.? Come on. Stiff pseudo noir does not suit a pop hero franchise. Tim Burton’s 1989 version was far superior because it embraced its silliness and had some fun with it. In the immortal words of Joker Jack: “What this town needs is an enema!” So does Nolan’s Batman.

Batman Begins. Christopher Nolan, 2005. *

28 Days Later

I hate zombies. They drive me up the wall. Why did I ever wanted to watch this escapes me–but it made sense with yesterday’s rainy-day Cillian Murphy horror double-feature. Takes an intersting turn in the third act; I won’t spoil it here. The ending stinks, and the DVD includes three or four alternate endings that are even worse. Good students of Mary Robison’s, we knew right away how Danny Boyle could have fixed it.

Red Eye

A fun thriller, unpretentious, workmanlike, and effective.

Red Eye. Wes Craven, 2005. ***