Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Sunshine (2007)

Written at the time of the film's release.

"...They went at night."

Our sun is dying. Mankind faces extinction. Seven years ago the Icarus project sent a mission to restart the sun but that mission was lost before it reached the star. Sixteen months ago, I, Robert Capa, and a crew of seven left earth frozen in a solar winter. Our payload a stellar bomb with a mass equivalent to Manhattan Island. Our purpose to create a star within a star. Eight astronauts strapped to the back of a bomb. My bomb. 

Sunshine is Danny Boyle's homage to 2001* while serving up an environmental metaphor in a sci-fi setting, a dissertation on the uses of faith, while also landing in the "Incredible Mess" subcategory of films.

It goes like this: Our sun (as they say) is dying. Seven years ago, the spaceship "Icarus I" headed out for the sun to drop a payload the "mass" of Manhattan Island to re-ignite it and stop the new Ice Age developing on Earth. The ship disappeared mysteriously, and so, "Icarus II" was launched, same mission, same payload. You'd think with the luck they had with the first one, they wouldn't name the second ship the same thing. Plus, if you're going to the sun, "Icarus" might not be the most inspiring legend to name your ship after.**
Be that as it may, the ship is as "green" as can be, with its own eco-system/garden (overseen by Michelle Yeoh) providing oxygen for the ship. But it wouldn't be much of a space drama if things went smoothly, now, would it? And before you can radio "Houston, we've got a problem," people get hot under the helmet-collar and things start to come apart faster than an "O" ring on a chilly day. The ship's shrink may be getting a bit too much sun. The "payload expert" (Cillian Murphy) and systems engineer (Chris Evans) are not getting along in what the pilot (Rose Byrne) calls "an excess of manhood breaking out in the com-center," and a slight miscalculation by the navigator creates a series of unfortunate events, and turns him suicidal.
Geez, folks, go outside. Get some sun.

Danny Boyle can be counted on to breathe new oxygen into any genre, like Trainspotting for the "kitchen-sink" film, 28 Days Later for the "zombie" movie, but Sunshine has so many echoes of Kubrick's 2001 right down to color schemes, ship designs, POV shots, "Icarus's" somewhat fussy computer behavior, freeze-frames in vague situations and close-up eye shots that A Space Odyssey is never too far from his frame (Murphy even has a slight resemblance to Keir Dullea). 
The dynamic of the crew is right out of Scott's Alien, and the denouement is subject to interpretation (after the "multiple endings" debacle of 28 Days Later). One also suspects that to secure a rating, or due to some preview-audience's expressed discomfort, some make-up effects have been toned down to near-imperceptibility. But, by and large, its a fascinating exercise in a genre that, if it asks too much of a leap of faith from its audience, can become laughable. Sunshine is far from that. It's always a little bit exhilarating to see a sci-film that obeys the laws of orbital mechanics, knows the dangers of space-travel (where math can be fatal), and doesn't have one ray-gun.
Best to see it on a big screen, though, as it's full of little details that won't translate on video.

* in fact, it's a bit scary how many little ties to 2001 there are. Why, you'll even see a black monolith or three in this film.

** In his acceptance of the D.W. Griffith Award from the Director's Guild in 1999 Kubrick evoked the Icarus story to talk about D.W. Griffith's rise and fall in the film business. "I always felt the message of the 'Icarus' story wasn't "Don't fly too high," but, rather, "Do a better job on the wax and feathers!" You can see that speech here.

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