Directed by Danny Boyle
It’s very much an ensemble piece, driven by dialogue and techno-babble that reveals the divergent personalities and complex relationships between seven astronaut scientists commissioned to save the world. Their difficult mission is put to the test when they decide to explore a distress beacon, seemingly from a previous attempt at the same mission. Things immediately begin to go wrong, putting the entire crew through tests of extreme hardship and forcing them to make even tougher decisions when their botanical oxygen supply explodes, leaving the ship with only enough oxygen for a reduced crew. Every rash decision makes it seem like they’re on a suicide mission.
That said, “Sunshine” isn’t the be-all end-all redefinition of the space opera genre one might expect from the man behind “28 Days Later”, but it is a mind-blowing visual treat, driven by the characters, the story and a moody tone that warrants favorable comparisons to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Ridley Scott’s “Alien.” Those are daunting comparisons, but the number of similar and familiar elements make them unavoidable, and many lesser sci-fi efforts have explored similar themes, including two versions of “Solaris,” and lesser-known attempts like “Event Horizon,” “Red Planet” and “Mission to Mars.” Granted, it’s hard to be original when dealing with science fiction archetypes like the ship’s talking computer (possibly HAL’s cousin?) or having a ship’s crew argue whether to explore a rescue beacon from an abandoned ship. Boyle does try to find new ways to explore these ideas as he enters this new territory, but he never quite achieves the unique eclecticism as Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain.”
Regardless, Boyle is working with another solid cast with Cillian Murphy, star of Boyle’s “28 Days Later”, very much being the story’s lynchpin, though strong performances by Chris Evans and Cliff Curtis’ performance are equally important and memorable. It’s also notable for its superb script by Boyle collaborator Alex Garland that forces one to think about whether something like this might be possible and what you might do if put in a similar situation. It’s interesting to think about whether anyone would step up to the plate and sacrifice their own lives to save ours if the sun ever were to die, and it also deals with how our fascination and near-addiction to sunlight is exacerbated by the ship’s proximity as some of the crew become addicted with bathing in the powerful solar rays. It’s surprising that Boyle and Garland aren’t afraid to include the type of obligatory hero moments found in more mainstream sci-fi films, as various characters make personal sacrifices for the sake of the crew and for mankind as a whole.
What keeps the movie from being mere rehash of the sci-fi films mentioned above is the way Boyle’s stylish vision elevates the filmmaking with sophisticated camerawork and editing techniques, combined with amazing special effects that make the film’s solar setting more real. The scope of detail and design work put into the Icarus II with its enormous reflective shield that protects the ship from the sun’s powerful rays is equally impressive.
As things progress, Boyle throws a number of sharp twists at the viewer, some predictable to those familiar with the genre but others that might be harder to get your head around. By the third act, it has turned into an outer space slasher-thriller as the surviving crew are stalked by a mysterious killer, and they start dropping like flies by methods that have been foreshadowed earlier. It’s certainly an interesting turn of events, but it comes from so far out of left field that it might have you scratching your head, and the film’s ending is certain to be received with mixed reactions. While it’s commendable that Boyle finally gets away from what might be expected, it might go too far in a less than clear direction.
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