Danny Boyle is one of the few directors whose work I get excited about regardless of the film’s subject matter. His ability to provide us with truly original concepts and visually compelling features sets him apart as one of our most talented directors. While he doesn’t have a long list of blockbusters to his credit, Transporting, Millions and, of course, 28 Days Later each rank as some of my more enjoyable film experiences. I can’t give Boyle sole credit for the incredible and original 28 Days Later, as the story was written by Alex Garland. When I heard that Boyle and Garland were teaming up again for another original film and that Michelle Yeoh and Cillian Murphy would be starring in it — well, needless to say I was excited. Then I saw the trailer: Sunshine. A film about a voyage… to the Sun? Now I’m really curious. I saved the trailer to my laptop and must have watched it about twenty times over the past year. When the film was released earlier this year in the U.K. I was incredibly jealous. Well, today I finally had the opportunity to check it out. And while it doesn’t quite live up to the other Danny Boyle films that I enjoyed so much, this film does the one thing that I appreciate most — it made me think.
Sunshine follows a crew of eight scientists/astronauts as they set sail with a huge bomb in hopes of re-igniting a dying Sun. The ship (cleverly titled “The Icarus”), is scheduled to fly close enough to the Sun to detach the payload and leave the crew enough time to propel themselves back towards Earth. The dilemma (besides the daring nature of the mission alone) is that this isn’t the first effort to save the Sun. Seven years prior, the “Icarus One” set sail in the exact same model ship and on the same mission — yet the fate of the original Icarus was never discovered (aside from the fact that the mission failed.)
The plot of Sunshine alone is enough to get hardcore sci-fi enthusiasts reeled in from the opening credits. The crew reminds me of the Alien crew in that they are made up of different and interesting personality types. There is, however, a discernable difference between the mood present in the Icarus and the mood of the Alien crew that flew aboard the Nostromo. This is a crew of brave scientists (some more than others) who are determined to change the fate of the Earth and to preserve humanity. You can feel the tension as they grow closer to the culmination of their mission and you sense that the fate of the original Icarus crew is a constant reminder of their own mortality.
One look at the film and you can tell that a sizeable sum was spent on all of the props that went into making up the Icarus. Only where it is truly needed is CGI used in the film. The live props and huge sets inside the Icarus give the film a very authentic “classic space/sci-fi” look to them. Externally, the Icarus has a very distinct shape. It has a large dome that is at the front of the ship with solar reflectors (to protects it from the Sun’s rays, and, presumably to supply it with energy.) The editing is extremely well done in that we’re always reminded of the Sun’s presence. Often the camera will peek from behind the comfort of the Icarus’ dome and reveal the sun and it almost blinds the viewer. A bit uncomfortable initially, but we need this discomfort, as it helps to connect us to the crew. One great aspect of the film is that there is complete continuity between the internal and external shots of the ship, which further helps to solidiy the illusion.
The acting is notably well done. Cillian Murphy and Michelle Yeoh were good, but surprisingly they were not the shining (pardon the pun) performances. For me, it was the performances of Cliff Curtis and Chris Evans that really pulled me in to the experience. But there are no weak links in the cast. Everyone does a solid job and the strong acting makes it easy to stay connected to the strange and original plot. (Danny Boyle always seems to get great performances from his actors.)
What’s intriguing about this film is the slight psychological edge to the Sun-bound trip. Tension between the scientists leads to a few differences of opinion in terms of how they should proceed in certain situations. More than this, the intrigue for me lies in the “mysteries of the Sun.” The film doesn’t quite dive into the mysteries of the Sun and provide a stronger “psychological edge” — at least not as much as I as hoping for. It does manage to evoke a strong sense of wonder. There are a few moments where Danny Boyle plays with our heads just a bit with some subliminal imagery.
Without giving away any spoilers, there is a section of the film where it gets a bit silly and ruins some of the experience for me. You’ll know it when you see it. No need to say anything more.
Ultimately I was looking for more 2001: A Space Odyssey than Alien or Event Horizon. But in the end, I got more of the latter two than I did the former. That said, it’s my own fault for putting such lofty expectations on this film based on how much I enjoyed 28 Days Later. Sunshine is a truly solid and original effort in it’s own right and has a completely original and somewhat inspiring story. If you are the least bit interested in science fiction and enjoy an atypical film experience, check this one out. I will probably be picking this up on DVD just to check out the director’s commentary in hopes of getting a better understanding of some of the rationale behind certain decisions in the screenplay. A very solid film — check it out.