Sci-Fi Sunday: Sunshine

Sunshine is Danny Boyle's meditative and haunting imagining of a future where the sun is ailing, but can still be saved. The movie was sold as a sort of science fiction thriller, when really it's a much slower affair.

A team of scientists have been sent aboard a spaceship called Icarus II to blow up the inside of the sun to reignite it (wibbly wobbly timey wimey). The issue didn't rankle at first, but really there was no internal logic to the selection of the team members, who were basically one essential physicist (strongly played by Cillian Murphy, in a role similar to his in 28 Days Later), and a bunch of expendables. As we were reminded in numerous conversations about people being expendable.

Chris Evans was surprisingly tolerable in his American flyboy hothead role, and was given slightly more of an inner life than his compatriots. In a typical Hollywood action movie, he would probably have been the hero of the day, instead of gamine Cillian Murphy. Rose Byrne has almost no purpose in the movie, apart from being slightly more intelligent than her crewmates. The rest of the characters are literal ciphers: the crazy one, the honorable commander, the psychiatrist who gets lost in his own humanity, eco-obsessed Asian, etc. So when characters die, it's hard to feel too sad. Oh look, there goes another stereotype!

The visuals are absolutely stunning; this must have been real eye-porn in the theatres. Every shot is calculated for maximum impact. The sun, which is normally a giver of life, has never been scarier, or more larger-than-life. Which brings us to another of the problems with the film. The sun is a powerful character, beautifully presented, representing both threat and hope. When our heroes face the more menacing aspects of it (the brightness, the heat) the crew's fears are understandable and constantly present.

But when the villain shifts to Pinbacker, the captain of Icarus I, (the name Icarus just conjures up hope, eh?) the plot becomes more fragmented (as do the visuals, the space-shift whenever Pinbacker's around is irritating). We don't really know why he became so warped, how he faced the sun and lived, or why he's so committed to making the mission fail. In the end, he is no more a character than any of Boyle's zombies in 28 Days/Weeks Later. The original fight between man v. nature is much more compelling, as is the internal tension between saving humanity v. maintaining your own humanity.

If I sound a little too negative, it's only because the movie was frustratingly close to perfection. If we just knew a little more about Pinbacker and what happened on Icarus I, and why he became a glorified Reaver. If we got just a little more backstory about the characters, not too much, but just enough to make us care. As I mentioned, the direction was stunning and the soundtrack was moody and evocative.

3/5 stars

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One Response to “ Sci-Fi Sunday: Sunshine ”

  1. This movie is pretty much a point by point remake of the 1997 movie Event Horizon.  In both cases I liked the movies up until the point where they have one of the crew "personify" the threat, instead of leaving it more tenuous.


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