There's a question that has come into my mind after reading some of the early reviews for this film, can a film be truly original nowadays? For many reviews have been saying that Danny Boyle just plods along familiar science fiction ground in this film and that he doesn't really take it anywhere new. Is that really a problem? Can you have still a strong film that covers familiar territory?
The answer is both yes and no. For if we are talking about the science fiction part of this film then he most definitely does pull it off, but the rest, the second half, is a bitter disappointment.
Going into the film, as I always do, I managed to drop the baggage of what had been said before. I knew the reviews weren't that strong, but I was hoping for a lot from this film and the clips I'd seen looked stunning, never mind the superb casting choices that had been made.
Before we talk about the film, just a big thanks to the people working at Edinburgh's Ocean Vue Cinema who help Filmstalker with all these reviews. They're a great bunch and the cinema is always a treat to visit. It does feel like going to the pictures when I was young...just now I can eat bigger hot dogs!
The story is set in the future with our sun dying out, it is slowly ending its life as all stars do, and because we haven't found another planet to colonise or any other way to end it, we have to somehow find a way to bring it back to life.
Amazingly, amidst a planet with dropping temperatures and a terrible winter gripping the entire planet, man has found a way to do just that. They've created some kind of bomb that will, theoretically, reignite the sun and bring it back to life.
The first Icarus ship was sent out seven years ago to deliver the payload to the centre of the star and nothing was heard since. The second ship Icarus II is nearing the sun, having on it the final bomb that the Earth has the materials to create. This is the last chance.
While they are on their journey they encounter the reasons why Icarus failed.
When the film opens Boyle burns away any thought of this film being poor. We see the effects of the sun, the superb voiceover of Cillian Murphy, almost whispering as we approach the sun and it builds in our vision. Before long it is blinding, but it begins to be blotted out and darken as the huge shield of the spaceship comes between us and our great star, and we see the relatively tiny spaceship.
These opening scenes are superb, and the sound fills the cinema with the burning sun and the spaceship moving across the screen make you think that you're set for something big, something very strong film.
To a degree you'd be right to think that, for the first half anyway. This first half is the science fiction film, and as the reviews say you can see it following similar paths to other classic science fiction films before it. This I don't believe is a problem, especially with Boyle's film, because he really does handle the film wonderfully.
The effects are stunning, but never overpower the film as it feels that there's a strong character base, helped by the superb actors. In this first half the concentration is on the actors and the characters, the camera is slow and intense, and the story brings close to the crew.
Chris Evans is perhaps the surprise in the cast, he gives quite a dramatic performance, but never going over the top which his superhero character would often call for. Murphy is very good as is Cliff Curtis, Benedict Wong, Hiroyuki Sanada, Troy Garity, Rose Byrne and Michelle Yeoh. Actually I've left no one out of the main cast that we see throughout the first half of the film.
They are all good, it's just a shame that Yeoh and Sanada aren't given enough screen time as they not only give great performances that draw you to the screen, but they so command the screen when they are on it, Sanada particularly. Just watch your eyes be drawn to them during their time on screen.
This mixed cast is superb, and one of the great features of the first half of the film.
Another strong aspect of the film, and something which thankfully continues even in the poorer second half of the film, is the tension. Boyle keeps this high throughout, and managed to even make me feel uncomfortable and anxious during the second half, at the same time as feeling disappointed.
So up until the first half ends the film has a powerful and slow building story, if very mindful of all the epics before it, has a superb cast who deliver great performances, amazing effects which don't overpower the film, and really has you beginning to move forward in your seat.
Then a few things happen which start to make you wonder what's going on. There are flashes of stills through the normal film and you suddenly find yourself distracted from the film trying to concentrate on catching the frames. When you do you see faces which are totally out of sync of the scenes you are watching and pull you right out of the tense and claustrophobic feeling that was being created in the scene.
From here it goes downhill and we are treated to two of the daftest script moments you can see in film. I shan't tell you exactly what they are, but it is safe to say that in the sun room the character of Capa behaves totally against character, seemingly ignoring everything you would know about the space ship.
It feels so wrong I couldn't believe it and was shaking my head. Not a half an hour before the scene in the sun room we were seeing this other scenes in this room explaining just what these characters would do when they enter it. It's totally strange to see this character do something different.
This is closely followed by another mind numbingly daft moment that really does feel like the "I'm going up to the attic alone", a moment that had been joked about in the film just moments before the whole film turned around. I couldn't believe it, and it jarred my whole belief in the film.
I was pushed out of the scenes by the flashing images, so I was totally detached by these poorly conceived scenes. Then the film decided to turn from the subtler science fiction feel it was carrying to a straight up horror film which happens to be in space.
The subtlety of the characters was gone, for example the growing effect on Searle of the visits to the sunroom and how this affects his decisions in the film. That's gone in favour of chases, racing countdowns, and horror.
There's also something else that I found difficult to watch during the latter half of the film, whenever the whole negative plot line (I'll be incredibly vague so that I don't give anything away) is on screen instead of framing and filming in a different way we are shown everything and blurring effects are superimposed so we can't see what is actually there.
There doesn't seem an attempt to use framing and camera work to obscure or distract, it just seems to be full on and begins to remind me more of 28 Days Later than anything else.
Then there's something else that's strange about it all, the entire plotline is dropped in a flash, although we're not really sure what happened and how, the plotline just disappears and we return to the main theme.
This all had me confused and it felt like there were two films in one here and this more horror section was added in to ramp up the scares and fights rather than keep the psychological character based story we began seeing.
In this first half we see the characters struggling with the needs of the entire planet over those on board the spaceship, and coming to terms with some stunning sacrifices. I was reminded of that line from Star Trek, "…the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one".
There are some great moments here that aren't explored enough, and point the way to a great and very different film.
However bad the second half sounds it still remains strong and the tension high. It doesn't make it a bad film, it just pulls it away from what you thought it was going to be and brings it back to a stock thriller horror that seems to lose its intelligence and focus near the end.
The trailer doesn't actually look that bad until we get to the first computer screen where we see an utterly unbelievable instant messaging screen that looks too cartoony. This does seem to be a slightly different cut of the trailer though and so the big reveal of what could be the ending of the film isn't so big.
This is the second time I've seen this trailer and really it doesn't seem to be as bad as I thought. There might be some strength in here as long as we don't just see Lecktor again.
The Bourne Ultimatum
The trailer looks great on screen, and the action less shaky cam and hard to follow. Another strong outing for Damon as Bourne I think.
I didn't appreciate the cool musical introduction to this trailer, or how great the framing is on the shots, something the big screen really helps out on. It does look superb.
28 Weeks Later
Talking of great trailers this one looks fantastic. The images of Britain being repopulated and then destroyed are stunning on the big screen and much more surprising to see than on the monitor. Then add in that haunting music blasted out on the speaker system and I was hooked.