Sunshine (2007) dir. Danny Boyle
Starring Cillian Murphy, Michelle Yeoh, Chris Evans
On DVD this week is Danny Boyle's "Sunshine" and no film this year improves more for me on second viewing than this. The sci-fi logline sounds like "Armageddon" - a group of international astronauts travel to the dying sun to reignite it with an atomic bomb. I had concerns with the third act which turned the film into a monster movie. Boyle appears to use this as a crutch to elevate the stakes in the second half, but upon closer examination the character is necessary to the existential elements of the story.
“Sunshine” is only for the selective sci-fi techno-geek audiences. It's courageous for the studio to finance a film that will likely find its audience many years down the road.
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. While the third act doesn't quite fit nicely with the first two thirds it successful heightens the momentum with the introduction of another character. I was disappointed Boyle felt the need to obscure this character from the audience. We are only given fractured, out of focus quick shots of him. Why? What's more frustrating is that Boyle obscures the monster from the audience, while the characters in the film get to see him in full view. In “Alien” Ridley Scott obscured his monster 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 existential moments do pack a wallop. The film's genuine love for humanity, the beauty of the earth and the sun bring the film to that spiritual 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.
"Sunshine" is available on DVD from Twentieth Century Fox Home Video.