Click to viewDanny Boyle may be the most gifted director working in science fiction today. Like Ridley Scott, he's made a number of non-SF films, but his contributions to the genre have stood out among its best works. We had a chance to sit down with Boyle and talk about how his new film, the Mumbai-set Slumdog Millionaire, is a William Gibson-style five-minutes-into-the-future adventure. He also talked about a second 28 Days Later sequel, his cult classic Alien Love Triangle, why he'll never make another space movie, and why he would never direct a big-screen Doctor Who film. On the 28 Days Later sequel: Says Boyle:
There is an idea for something to do with a way of concluding [the story]. It's not really come to anything yet. It's quite a big idea, but it'll be an economic decision. Because what happens with franchises like that — because it is a franchise now, in effect — is the studios do the math. And they say, 'It will make so much on film, and so much on DVD, and therefore, yes you can have that, or no you can't.' But there is an idea for it — a good idea, I think.
Why he'll never do another space movie after Sunshine: "It is really tough" to direct a science fiction movie, Boyle says, and space movies are the hardest. "Having made a space movie, I now understand why [so many] directors only ever made one of them. Because it's so difficult to do, to get it right." The big problem is that the audience is so demanding — everything has to look right and be consistent. "And I'm one of them. We're merciless. If you get the detail wrong in a space movie, [the audience says] 'Ohhh, the man ought to floating, there wouldn't be any gravity.' It's pitiless."
"Obviously, I think 28 Days Later is a science fiction movie," Boyle adds. "I don't think I'd make another space movie as such. But a scifi movie, no, absolutely."
He also said it was nice to go shoot a movie in Mumbai after "three years in a studio" making Sunshine. "It's really precise and focused, and you don't get anything for free. Nothing walks in the door, because it can't. Obviously, you're in a sealed hostile environment." You couldn't pick a better contrast from that type of environment than Mumbai, where there are constantly surprises and you often end up getting stuff you never would have expected. Would he ever direct a big-screen Doctor Who movie? Okay, I had to ask, even though I knew it was a dorky question. With the BBC finally talking about making a big-screen film of its long-running time-travel soap comedy, would Danny Boyle even consider directing it? Sadly, the answer is no:
I wouldn't do it, and I'll tell you why: My memory of Doctor Who is linked with really naff special effects in the 60s, and I couldn't think of any other way of doing it than that. I mean, I was terrified of the Daleks. I remember being so frightened, [of] the really naff special effects like the early days. I couldn't do it any other way. Russell T. Davies has kind of developed it, and has bridged it into the 21st century. It's brilliant, what he's done. But I could never see it like that. I would be the wrong guy to ask about it. I couldn't transform it, really, in a way. But it's a brilliant show, it's brilliant that they've reinvented it for a new audience. It's a huge hit in that format. I love the fact that Chris Eccleston did it for a season, and this new guy is obviously very good. I wish them well with it. But it wouldn't be for me, no.
My dreams are crushed.
Is Slumdog Millionaire a five-minutes-into-the-future film? Boyle's new film, Slumdog Millionaire, follows Jamal Malik from his childhood to his amazing winning streak, as an 18-year-old, on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. Suspecting that Malik has cheated on the show, the police arrest him and demand to know how he could have known the quiz-show's answers. Based on the novel Q&A by Vikas Swarup, the movie uses Malik's explanations of his winning streak as a framing device to narrate Malik's short life to date. When Annalee and I watched the film last week, we were struck by how much it features an emergent global culture of game shows, reality TV stardom, iphones, and pop music that mashes up Bollywood music with Ska and hip-hop.
I asked Boyle if his film was showing how the present is the future, similar to William Gibson's recent novels. He said that looking at India is like seeing the future of Capitalism, because in order to succeed, capitalist economies have to grow really quickly. And economies like India and China are growing unimaginably fast. "There are as many as 300 million people who are officially middle class now in India, and they are driving this change in taste, in the films they want to watch, the music they want to listen to, the stuff they want to buy... and you can feel it happening in front of you." Boyle added:
In terms of William Gibson, you also get a glimpse of what cities are going to be like. Because there's no city getting smaller. Every city is expanding. Every city just grows and grows, and gets bigger and more crowded. And India, Mumbai especially, has got that. There are way too many people. It's a very little island, Mumbai, and most of it's mangrove swamp, there's very little land, and there's 20 million people there. There isn't enough water, there certainly isn't enough sanitation, they don't have enough electricty. And most of the time — occasionally, they have these riots — but most of the time they live together. They somehow make it work. Our cities are going to be like that eventually. Maybe not in our lifetimes, but in 50 years' time they're going to be like that.
When will Alien Love Triangle come out on DVD? I asked Boyle a question about dysfunctional family relationships in his films, and somehow this turned into a discussion of his 2002 cult classic, Alien Love Triangle. Only 30 minutes long, the film stars Kenneth Branagh as a man who invents teleportation. And then he discovers that his wife (Courteney Cox) is really a male alien hiding in a female human's body. To make matters worse, a female alien (Heather Graham) shows up to take Cox back to their home planet. Yeah. Boyle explained that Alien Love Triangle is his film about family life. "It's apparently a superficial comedy. But what it's really about, it's about the British, and what they will do to protect the apparent perfect family ideal — the lengths they will go to to protect that. I'd love you to see that." At one point, Cox's male alien and Graham's female alien "transform bodies at one point in it... They do this kind of transgressive thing, it's really bizarre. But it's really funny. Once you've seen it, you think about family life."
"Very few people have seen it," he laments, because it's too long to be shown as a short before another film. He hopes the film will come out on DVD one of these days. Miramax owns the rights to it, and it was just shown in a special screening at the smallest movie theater in Wales, which was closing. Originally, the movie was going to come out as a charity DVD, but that hasn't panned out. There's also been talk about including it as an extra on the Slumdog Millionaire DVD.