SUNSHINE (2007) - Pass

3:10 TO YUMA (2007) - Pass

Newly released on DVD, Danny Boyle’s Sunshine — like the recent Children of Men — is bleak apocalyptic sci-fi haunted by the mortality not of each human being but of mankind as a whole.

Half a century in the future, the sun is dying. Earth’s only hope is a manned mission to the sun with a “solar bomb” designed to revive the ailing star.

For an hour or so, intelligent dialogue and solid performances create a crew of characters who talk and generally act like grownups rather than action heroes. Then, in the final act, an unexpected twist transmogrifies the film into space-faring horror not unlike Ridley Scott’s Alien.

A character driven to madness claims to have “talked with God,” who has decreed the extinction of humanity: “It is not our place to challenge God.”

Boyle, an agnostic with Catholic roots, has an affinity for religious imagery (see Millions) that isn’t wholly missing here. Screenwriter Alex Garland, whom Boyle calls “an aggressive atheist,” says the film was inspired by “an article projecting the future of mankind from a physics-based, atheist perspective.” (Ironically, the inevitability of the heat death of the universe has long been regarded by Christian apologetics as an indication of a Creator.)

Any stab at real meaning Boyle might have hoped for is undermined by the bloody final act. The meaningless religious rhetoric evinces the same contemptuous, impatient incomprehension as Christopher Hitchens’ sneer that theology is “a non-subject” that one need not actually understand in order to attack.

Also new on DVD, 3:10 to Yuma, James Mangold’s Western remake, similarly suffers from an unnecessarily bloody-minded final act that undermines the intended meaning of the story.

The original 1957 film is a mature, suspenseful duel of character between a virile, charismatic rogue with more than a touch of tarnished honor and a struggling rancher seeking to recover a sense of self-worth — along with a much-needed $200 reward — by bringing the outlaw to justice.

The remake replaces all the business about honor, self-worth and justice with steady mayhem and general lawlessness. There’s no spiritual duel, just a broken man harboring hopeless dreams of being a man again in the eyes of his wife and son, and an implacable force of nature able to kill men and seduce women at will.

The original believed that a man was a man whether he was an outlaw or a law-abiding citizen, and core human and social values applied to all. The remake sees men as either wolves or sheep — those who take what they want, and those who are the helpless victims of the takers’ caprice and whims.

Content advisory

Sunshine: Some graphic violence, gruesome and disturbing images; some profane and obscene language; some moral and spiritual murkiness. 3:10 to Yuma: Much graphic violence and gunplay; a graphically gory surgery scene; some profane, obscene and coarse language; an off-screen sexual encounter; partial female nudity; sexual references and innuendo; problematic religious references. Both inappropriate for children and young teens.