Sunshine (2007)

Sunshine (2007)

Film review by: Witney Seibold


            Not to be confused with Istvan Szabo’s wonderful 2000 film of the same name.

            The year is 2050-something, and the sun is fading away. A few years ago, we tried sending a honking huge bomb to the sun on a ship called the Icarus (how fitting), but the ship vanished. Now we’re sending our really-really last chance ship, the Icarus II, with an even huger bomb. When the crew gets closer and closer to the sun, they find that the Icarus I is actually still there. Oh my! They change course to see if they can salvage the bomb (two last chances are better than one), and see if there’s anything else worth ripping off. In changing course, the ship suffers some damages. Now they really need that stuff. But as they get closer, eerie things begin happening. Is there something supernatural in the cosmos?


            This story is as familiar to sci-fi fans as germ-vulnerable invading aliens, or bodysnatching. If you’ve seen “2001: A Space Odyssey,” either version of “Solaris,” “Alien,” or even “Event Horizon,” than you will not find a whole lot of revolutionary thinking in director Danny Boyle’s (“Millions,” “28 Days Later”) new sci-fi spic. It asks similar questions, gets similar answers, and is placed in similar settings to any film or story that takes place on space-faring vehicles. It even has the same space rescue elements as the ultimate sci-fi clunker of recent years “Armageddon.” And, of course, there’s a clam-voiced computer (Chipo Chung) that the crew refers to my name.


            The best way to judge “Sunshine,” then, is to look at its performances, its filmmaking skill, and its use of its own sci-fi elements. I’m glad to report that all of these things are stellar.


            The cast includes Cillian Murphy as a physicist, Michelle Yeoh as a botanist (to take care of the organic produce and oxygen), Chris Evans as the tough American guy with big biceps, Rose Byrne, Benedict Wong, Troy Garity, and Cliff Curtis rounding out the crew, and Hiroyuki Sanada as the cap’n. None of these people are really old enough to doctors and master physicists (actually Yeoh is 45, and Sanada 47, but they come across as much younger), but never mind. They are all convincing and capable actors, especially Murphy and Curtis. They aren’t hotshot soldier assholes like in “Armageddon,” nor are they giggly ignorant spaceteens. “Sunshine” and its cast really go to great lengths to understand and explore the repercussions of spending years and years in space with the same people. It doesn’t quite reach the working-stiff mastery of “Alien,” but it’s decidedly different in tone.


            Boyle also makes sure we know the science of it all. A mark of good science fiction, when it comes to its own imaginary technology, is to make sure we know how a lot of the machines work. “Star Trek” is the pioneer of this, peppering the dialogue with polysyllabic mishmash that may not mean too much in the real world, but sure makes it sound like that ship could really work. “Sunshine” explains the giant reflector to shield the crew from the sun’s rays, the purpose of the holodeck-like structure that helps the crew relax, the changing thrust angles, the power of engines, the oxygen supplies. The only science that it really fudges on is the gravity problem, which is sort of ignored during the film’s tense finale.

             The thing the film does best, though, is give us a healthy dose of the eerie. It’s not purely mechanical, nor is it tiresomely philosophical. It’s more interested in the isolation and the mind-crushing loneliness that comes with being lightyears away from Earth, and then the inevitable insanity-inducing uneasiness that will come when one is faced with something as mindbogglingly vast as the universe. On the way out, you may feel unnerved and scared and small, but happy for the shining sun up above. And that’s what Boyle was shooting for, I think.                                   

Published in: on July 30, 2007 at 10:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

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