Friday, 20 July 2007
Sunshine (2007) dir. Danny Boyle
Starring Cillian Murphy, Michelle Yeoh, Chris Evans
Opening today is “Sunshine” - a science-fiction film about a group of astronauts sent from earth to reignite the dying sun. It’s a high concept film that blends elements of “Solaris” with “Alien”, resulting in a lesser hybrid of the two.
“Sunshine” is in a precarious position. It’s only for selective audiences, and even those audiences (which is me) will find faults with it. And to make things worse it will likely take years before it can achieve the cult status it’s aimed at being. So I’m afraid it will likely spell doom in the theatres. Having said that I do admire the film very much, but have only given it a 3-star rating, knowing that, with age, it will likely grow into something bigger.
At the top, in voiceover, we’re told the sun is dying and the only way to save humanity is to reignite it with a highly concentrated nuclear bomb. Then the film immediately jumps into the story by putting us on a spacecraft headed for the sun. There’s no obligatory earth scenes, or training sequences, writer Alex Garland and director Danny Boyle clearly know its audience is literate to this story, so there’s no need. Their crew consists of an international group of eight astronauts, physicists, biologists etc. Cillian Murphy, the physicist who will deliver the payload is the protagonist. The ship, Icarus II, is the second mission after the first attempt failed seven years, ago. Along the way they encounter the Icarus I and discover the reasons why it failed in its mission. Something sinister comes in the crew’s way to accomplishing their mission, and it’s up to Cillian to save the planet.
I admire Danny Boyle’s films. His great films (“Shallow Grave”, “Trainspotting” and “28 Days Later”) are some of my favourite films of the last 20 years. And even his duds (“A Life Less Ordinary” or “The Beach”) are redeemed with dynamic pacing and a unique visual style. “Sunshine” is no exception. There are some truly awe inspiring sci-fi moments including the awesome power of the sun, which acts as an omnipresent character in the film. Boyle’s camera pans and glides across the massive heat shield reminding us how close the characters are to being disintegrated in a split second by the intensity of the sun. Inside the ship we are treated to a number of tense moments, unfortunately involving the familiar space-bound sequences we’ve seen in other films. There’s a space-walk, a space-docking, running toward closing hatches etc. But Boyle is always so clever and he brings these overplayed scenes to a whole new level.
“Sunshine” wants to have its cake and eat it too – to be a credible art film exploring existential elements of “Solaris” and “2001”, yet entertain with “Alien"-like scares. BEWARE SOME SPOILERS COMING UP. …The film could have been both if it were clearer with these two elements. The ‘monster’ part of the story is told very obliquely. And I was confused why the monster is actually obscured from the audience for no apparent reason. And it’s frustratingly manipulative because Boyle only obscures the monster from us, the audience, while the characters in the film get to see him in full view. In “Alien” Ridley Scott obscured the Alien for most of the picture and only revealed it to us when the characters see it for the first time. In “Sunshine” we don’t ever get a full reveal. What gives?
The film also gets sloppy in the end with the action. It’s quite difficult to understand the geography of the ship - who is where and why. It all stems from Boyle’s need NOT to show exactly what’s going on, with ultra-tight editing and fractured camera views.
The existential moments are pseudo-spiritual and don’t break new ground. But there’s a genuine love for humanity and the gifts of science to us that bring the film to that ethereal level. In the end, I didn’t mind the lack of logic with the action nor the holes in the plot. When Underworld’s Eno-esque music climaxes the film washed over me like a gentle wave and gave me sufficient satisfaction.
So I would advise seeing “Sunshine” with the knowledge that it won’t be “28 Days Later” or “2001: A Space Odyssey”, but a different but worthy experience, outside of the Harry Potter/Spider Man/Transformers/Shrek extravaganzas. Enjoy.