STARRING: Rose Byrne, Cliff Curtis, Chris Evans, Troy Garity, Cillian Murphy, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh

2007, 108 Minutes, Directed by:
Danny Boyle

Fifty years from now our sun is dying
which is much much sooner than anyone had anticipated and a group of eight astronauts and scientists are sent aboard a spaceship to drop a huge bomb into the heart of the sun to “kick start” it again.

Ominously their spaceship is called the “Icarus II” didn’t anyone at NASA know their Greek mythology? Or maybe they just weren’t superstitious when it comes to tempting the fates, who really knows? Even more ominously the “Icarus I” simply disappeared without trace, which makes their naming nomenclature even more inexplicable.

Of course within ten minutes you know straight off that (a) things will not exactly go as planned and (b) that the fate of the first “Icarus” mission will be revealed.

Be that as it may, Sunshine kicks off promisingly, examining the sheer tedium and cabin fever that will accompany any such lengthy space mission. (When we join the team, they have been in space for sixteen months. No wonder a psychologist has also been sent along!)

The way clinical high-tech spaceships in Star Trek simply warp from one planet to the next and how the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars zips around in a galaxy far far away conveniently using “hyperdrive” has done both science fiction and the space program a disservice. Space travel is a hazardous enterprise (no pun intended), one that is not beneficial to your physical and mental state of being at all. As Sunshine again illustrates there is just so much that can go wrong with what is basically an insanely complicated piece of machinery. (In 1967 one Apollo rocket actually had a mind-boggingly 1 400 faults!) Not to mention the human factor . . .

"If you were expecting Boyle to do for SF what he did for the zombie flick, then you’d be disappointed!"

It is the human factor that lets down both the “Icarus II” spaceship, and the movie itself to be honest. The film’s characters remain woefully underdeveloped, and if you were somehow led by the film’s marketing to believe that the astronauts aboard “Icarus II” have to cope with encroaching madness within their own ranks, a bit like the 1974 Dark Star, then you’d be disappointed. Sunshine is about heroics and fast-paced action and thrills. After a slow start, the action truly kicks off and the audience is in for quite a thrill-ride thanks to some eye-popping special effects and fantastic sound design.

WARNING! BEGINNING SPOILERS! That is, until the film’s third act rolls around and the plot takes an inexplicable turn into slasher territory, an act that reeks of either desperation by the screenwriter or interference by ignorant producers (“the audience must be growing restless by now, how about throwing in a deranged serial killer for the astronauts to cope with as well!”) Not only is this final act highly improbable, it also cheapens the tone of the movie. In 2001: A Space Odyssey the astronauts found God or maybe a close approximation of a deity. In Sunshine they find a religious nut slasher . . . Mmmh, maybe they just did better drugs back in the ‘Sixties than today. END SPOILERS!

And speaking of drugs, if you were expecting Danny Boyle, the director of Trainspotting, to do the same for this particular sci-fi subgenre than what he did for the zombie flick in 28 Days Later, namely cleverly reinvent the genre’s conventions, then you’d no doubt be disappointed. Sunshine doggedly sticks to expectations laid down by similar movies such as The Core, Armageddon and (particularly) Event Horizon without bringing much that is new to the table.

Make no mistake though: purely as a space adventure action/thriller Sunshine works reasonably well even though it treads familiar ground. The special effects and set designs are extremely well done, and to truly appreciate them one should watch this film on the big screen. Hard sci-fi fans will also be thrilled by the film’s central conceit even though most of the science is bogus. Acting is competent and despite a slow start the film nicely picks up the pace to make for an exciting mid-section. The film is however often flawed by an over-reliance on techno babble that will be off-putting to non-SF fans.

Sunshine however comes off as disappointing when one considers the film’s pedigree. After all, the film is directed by one of the more exciting film-makers in the business and based on an original screenplay by Alex Garland, author of The Beach. It also features a promising cast led by a fresh-faced Cillian Murphy (Scarecrow in Batman Begins) in a rare sympathetic role. Even Boyle’s less successful efforts (The Beach comes to mind) however remains imminently watchable and the same sentiment can be applied to Sunshine.

It’s just that one expected more . . . and that final act will really make you roll your eyes in exasperation.

(Note: Amazing what a long shadow 2001: A Space Odyssey still casts over sci-fi movies even all these decades later. At times Sunshine just seems like 2001 but with bigger and better special effects. Also, taking into consideration Boyle’s use of pop songs in Trainspotting I was half-expecting Sunshine to at least feature Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” and Violent Femmes’ “(Let Me Go Out Like) A Blister in the Sun”. This was not to be alas. The soundtrack consists of some very 1990s techno-sounding vibes a la Moby . . .)



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