Glad I finally got to check this out. I am a big Alex Garland fan and have had this on my watchlist for some time. The effects were immensely impressive. This movie is almost 15 years old and the exterior space shots still hold up beautifully. The ensemble here is great all around and continues to look better as the movie ages given the careers that took off after this film. I think what Danny Boyle brought to this film was bittersweet for me. I love his closeups and his visual investment in each character, hanging on them and letting the actors tell the story. I also liked the little inserted frames of character pictures as a way to build emotional tension in a scene. I unfortunately am not a fan of his frenetic camerawork in climactic moments, that may just come down to personal taste, but when the camera is consistently chaotic through a long sequence the gimmick loses its impact for me and I just long to clearly see the action and geography of the scene. Also there were characters that he purposely chose to never fully show, I don’t know if that was a limitation of the makeup effects and they made that decision later in the edit? But either way It didn’t really work for me.
These were rather small complaints in comparison to the overall movie. I found the practical effects and detailed production design to be wonderful. The characters were interesting and had understandable motives. The pacing was solid and consistent throughout. I really had fun with it.
I will say though, speaking more broadly of Alex Garlands work, his stuff all seems derivative of itself to an extent. All of his work that I’ve seen centers around a scientific or technological construct of a philosophical idea, that starts as an awe inspiring thing and devolves into a “be careful what you wish for” parable. He really closely walks that tightrope between auteur and somewhat hackneyed, but the common elements are just vague enough that I still find it very compelling. Its a similar feeling I have toward a Sorkin film or Aronofsky’s films and his meditations on obsession. Regardless his attention to detail, deep dives into scientific and philosophical concepts, and character work still make him one of my fav writer/directors in sci-fi.