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Once, every now and then, a movie comes along with imagery and tone so solid that it makes me say, “Yeah”. I say it with a sort of nonchalant awe and relaxed wonder, not unlike the reaction Shaft would give upon seeing a UFO landing and a super fine alien chick stepping out. The first ten minutes of Miike’s “Dead or Alive”, the battle of Helm’s Deep in “The Two Towers”, and the end of “Akira” have all evoked this reaction from me. And, I’m pleased to say, sitting in the darkness of the cinema watching Danny Boyle’s new sci-fi piece “Sunshine” gave me the same feeling.
“Sunshine” is set 50 years in the future, at a time when the sun is dying. Mankind’s fate rests in the hands of eight young astronauts and physicists, piloting what is essentially a giant bomb into the centre of the sun in an attempt to create a “star within a star”. However, as the crew come increasingly close to their goal, tensions start to run high within the claustrophobic confines of the spaceship, as the would-be saviors of mankind are forced to choose between the survival of Earth and their own.
The first thing you notice about “Sunshine” is just how spectacular the imagery is. Perhaps designed to distract the viewer from the far-fetched plot, the computer effects are breathtaking and bathe the viewer in intoxicating visuals. Boyle has obviously let the special effects team run wild, charging up the sepia tones and creating a sense of sheer awe the likes of which have not been seen since Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” debuted in 1968.
However, unlike the special effects blockbusters that dominate the market today (I’m looking at you, “300”), “Sunshine” does not use CGI as a crutch. Instead, Boyle mixes computer graphics with real sets that look as pragmatic as possible, a definite nod towards Ridley Scott’s “Alien”. And like “Alien”, this helps to create a sense of pure tension aboard the ship. When it becomes apparent that the crew have a very slim chance of surviving their mission, the characters’ true colours start to show, and the tension created in the early stages of the film pays off in a way that is just as impressive as the immense CGI.
So it’s safe to say that “Sunshine” isn’t a sci-fi movie in the strictest sense. While there is a degree of scientific mumbo-jumbo, it is kept to a minimum, as Danny Boyle skilfully builds the tension, turning a sci-fi premise into a character-driven film. Boyle is aided by great performances from Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans (the Human Torch from “The Fantastic Four”) and Hong Kong legend Michelle Yeoh. Although some were obviously miscast as world-class scientists, the actors nevertheless manage to pull it off. That, coupled with the brilliant direction from Boyle, ensures that “Sunshine” contains the kind of decision-making and “what would you do” scenarios that lesser genre efforts can only allude to.
That said, “Sunshine” is nowhere near perfect. Nitpickers and science boffins will no doubt find countless holes in the plot, not to mention the contrived physics talk. Hell, even someone as undemanding as myself could notice several parts that simply didn’t add up or pan out logically. (I for one certainly hope our planet has more than 50 years of sunlight left.) However, with a movie like this, these type of plot holes simply do not matter.
“Sunshine” can be seen as an allegorical tale of how doomed the human race is. It can also be said to contain a religious message about humanity’s consistent desire to “touch the face of God”. Then again, it could just be a far-fetch science fiction movie, or something substantive like a study of the human condition. Or it could be all those things. At the end of the day, “Sunshine” is a very, very good film. It has enough awe-inspiring imagery to please those looking for some eye candy, but also enough depth for those looking for more. And while the story isn’t exactly sound, and it does borrow heavily from other sci-fi films like “2001”, “Event Horizon” and “Armageddon”, as well as animes such as “Ghost in the Shell”, “Evangelion” and “Virus”, Danny Boyle has still crafted what is probably the best sci-fi film in recent memory.
Danny Boyle (director) / Alex Garland (screenplay)
CAST: Rose Byrne … Cassie
Cliff Curtis … Searle
Chris Evans … Mace
Troy Garity … Harvey
Cillian Murphy … Capa
Hiroyuki Sanada … Kaneda
Mark Strong … Pinbacker
Benedict Wong … Trey
Michelle Yeoh … Corazon