The Danny Boyle sci-fi short film we never got to see – Den of Geek UK


In the late 90s, two very different filmmakers were still in the (relatively) early stages of their careers. Mexican director Guillermo del Toro had released his first feature, Cronos (1993) to widespread acclaim. The UK’s Danny Boyle had captured the zeitgeist with his second movie, Trainspotting, and was about to embark on his next film, A Life Less Ordinary (1997).

Had everything gone to plan, del Toro and Boyle could have wound up directing their own chapters of a three-part anthology movie – the sci-fi equivalent of, say, Amicus Productions’ portmanteau horror films of the 60s and 70s, such as The House That Dripped Blood or Tales From The Crypt. The anthology was reportedly called The Light Years Trilogy, and was in production at Dimension Films.

Each segment would have run to around 30 minutes in length, with del Toro and Boyle’s contributions joined by a third story directed by Gary Fleder, the director of the cult thriller Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead (1995) and James Patterson adaptation, Kiss The Girls (1997).

The Light Years Trilogy never emerged, but two of the stories planned as part of it did. Del Toro’s story was worked up into the creature feature Mimic, in which giant mutant cockroaches crawl around in the Manhattan underground, terrorising the populace until a scientist (Mira Sorvino) heads into the depths of the city to find out what’s going on. 

Production on the movie was fraught, with many of del Toro’s ideas rejected – he didn’t even want the monsters to be cockroaches, but rather a kind of tree beetle – and a second unit brought into shoot new material against the director’s wishes.  A cut of Mimic approved by del Toro emerged on Blu-ray in 2011, which removed the second unit footage and took the movie closer to the filmmaker’s original, creepy vision.

The next film on the Light Years bill was Impostor, adapted from the Philip K Dick short story of the same name by Scott Rosenberg, the screenwriter of Things To Do In Denver. Unlike Mimic, Impostor was actually shot as a 30-minute short by Fleder, but then the original sci-fi anthology project fell apart. As a result, a string of screenwriters – including Ehren Kruger and David Twohy – were brought in to write additional scenes, designed to bring the story up to feature length.

Starring Gary Sinise, Impostor contains all the paranoia and mind-bending ideas you’d expect from a Philip K Dick story. The Earth’s in a kind of siege mode because of an insidious alien invasion; the hostile visitors are capable of making exact copies of humans which double as ticking time bombs. Spencer Olham (Sinese) is a respected weapons designer until he’s arrested on suspicion of being one of these bombs in disguise; Olham protests his innocence, and just as he’s about to be dissected by his former comrades, he manages to make his escape. 

Impostor came out in 2002 to disappointing business, and while it isn’t the weakest movie to come from a Philip K Dick story (2003’s Paycheck is arguably worse), it isn’t exactly Blade Runner, Total Recall or Minority Report, either.

All of which brings us to the third film in the cancelled anthology: Danny Boyle’s segment, titled Alien Love Triangle. Like Impostor, this was actually filmed, with a script penned by John Hodge – Boyle’s regular collaborator on such films as Shallow Grave, Trainspotting and this year’s sequel, T2. Unlike the darker Mimic and Impostor chapters, Alien Love Triangle was a comedy; Kenneth Branagh starred as Steven Chesterman, a scientist who discovers that his wife, played by Courtney Cox, is an alien in disguise.

According to a 2008 piece on io9, Cox’s character “is really a male alien hiding in a female body”, while Heather Graham appears as a female alien charged with taking Cox’s visitor back to their home planet.

“It’s apparently a superficial comedy,” Boyle told the website. “But what it’s really about, it’s about the British, and what they will do to protect the apparently perfect family ideal – the lengths they will go to protect that.”

Boyle went on to briefly describe a “transgressive” scene in the film where Courtney Cox’s alien abruptly shifts genders:

“They do this kind of transgressive thing, it’s really bizarre,” Boyle said. “But it’s really funny. Once you’ve seen it, you think about family life.” 

To date, the movie appears to have been exhibited in public only once,  thanks to the efforts of Mark Kermode. In 2008, the critic and broadcaster wanted to mark the closing of the UK’s smallest cinema – La Charrette in Wales – by showing something strange and unique at the venue. After a bit of chasing and arm twisting, Kermode managed to get Alien Love Triangle screened at the tiny theatre, and even managed to get its star, Kenneth Branagh, to turn out for the premiere.

“After 10 years and having seen an uncompleted version of it, I’m slightly nervous about it,” Branagh told the BBC at the time. “I hope people like it. I hope the rest of the world gets to see it.”

Unfortunately, the rest of the world hasn’t been able to see Alien Love Triangle, at least at the time of writing. The film appears to be stuck in its studio’s vaults, where it will probably remain until the legal knots apparently surrounding it can be unpicked. There was talk of the short appearing as an extra on the DVD of Slumdog Millionaire, but this evidently came to nothing. 

Alien Love Triangle’s obscurity is doubly frustrating, since it marks a rare jaunt into sci-fi territory for its director. After the horror hit 28 Days Later, Danny Boyle embarked on his ambitious space thriller Sunshine, a movie he maintained was so difficult to make that he swore off making a sci-fi film ever again. Alien Love Triangle’s closing in on 20 years old now, but we’re clinging to the hope that this quirky-sounding movie from one of the UK’s most accomplished directors will eventually emerge from its hiding place.

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