Judge Joel Pearce makes me happy when skies are grey.
If it dies, so do we.
An almost classic, Sunshine manages to shock, entertain, provoke thought, and deeply frustrate the viewer. Still, its strength as an intelligent piece of science fiction makes it worth a trip for genre fans, and there's no question that it's a timely release.
Facts of the Case
In the distant future, humankind is faced with a potentially unstoppable problem: the sun is dying out. A permanent winter has swept the face of the earth, and they can only save themselves by finding a way to restart our own personal star. This is where the Icarus comes in, a ship designed to fly close enough to the sun to deliver a massive nuclear payload that will get the sun burning bright again. The first Icarus flight has failed, and now the crew of the second ship is on its way. The mission relies heavily on Capa (Cillian Murphy, Batman Begins), a young physicist who might even know enough to get the bomb off right.
For the first time in our history, humanity has been faced with the sudden and sinking realization that our world is not a permanent thing. Just like we have physical bodies with a set life cycle, our planet, solar system and universe are also part of a life cycle. For most of us, this is not a fact that keeps us up at night—after all, things won't change over the next few decades or centuries. Even more recently, though, scares like global warming and the holes in the ozone layer have brought nightmarish global catastrophes onto our doorstep. Science fiction, which has always toyed with the idea of the end of the world, has needed to change quickly to adapt to this new fear.
Enter Sunshine, a film that takes a premise combining Deep Impact and Armageddon, then turns it into a moral thriller. We get almost no glimpses into the actual world and what has happened as our sun has died. There is no alien threat on our doorstep, and no funny scientist sidekicks to bring cute comic relief to the proceedings. While the science is questionable, most of it feels surprisingly believable, especially for the genre. This science is introduced in a relatively organic way, such that we never feel like we are being taught fake science for the advancement of the plot.
Indeed, there's no real conflict for the first few minutes, and when it begins, it's all driven by moral choices and challenges that the characters face. If you are on a ship that represents the last hope for the world's continued existence, you need to be willing to do anything in order to achieve that goal. The pressure to succeed would be phenomenal, and any small mistake would mean not only the death of the crew, but the death of everyone in the world. When the crew decides to travel to the Icarus I, it sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to shatter them emotionally as much as physically.
I am really impressed by this development. Through the first half of the film, the suspense comes from a completely unconventional group of places. Minor mistakes and misunderstandings drive tensions high and threaten to destroy them. The crew has to decide how they will make difficult decisions. They also have to decide whether it's worth sacrificing a small level of humanity to save a world full of humans. It is fascinating, challenging, and delivered by an exceptional international cast. Cillian Murphy brings humanity and fragility to the physicist who is solely responsible for setting off the bomb. The other characters are equally fascinating, especially Cliff Curtis (Live Free or Die Hard) as a psychologist who may be the most unstable of the group.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It is heartbreaking, then, when Sunshine falls apart in the third act. As though unsatisfied with its intelligent plot, all logic is abandoned in the last half hour, as the film takes a spiral into "there's a monster in our ship" territory. Suddenly, all the creativity, intelligence and plausibility of the film dissolves into violence and nonsense. This is the same complaint I had with director Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, but I found the shift even more frustrating this time. All of the moral complexity simply gets tossed out the window in favor of tired thrills and chills, which worked well in Alien but have long since gone stale. The film is still worth watching for both science fiction and horror fans, but it isn't the revelation that it could have been.
Fox has done a fine job with the disc, although I have to speculate from the compressed test DVD that I received. The video transfer is sharp and clean, though, and the black levels will be very good (and important) on the final transfer. The sound is fantastic, though, using all channels and the LFE to excellent effect. There are quite a number of special features, including a commentary from Danny Boyle and one by a young Dr. Cox, a physicist that acted as a scientific consultant on the film. It's a great track, because it discusses the science in the film without ignoring the fact that it is ultimately designed to be entertainment. It's well worth a listen. There are a number of deleted scenes as well, and a production diary that looks at the making of the film. For fans, there's certainly no shortage of things to check out. Finally, there are some short films, which Boyle has included as a chance to boost some young filmmakers. It's a cool thing to do, and a thing I would love to see more often on DVDs.
I'm a bit torn with this recommendation. On one hand, Sunshine is one of the better science fiction films I've seen in quite a while. It has an intelligent plot, decent science, good special effects, and some great twists and turns. On the other hand, all of those strengths are betrayed at the end, through one of the most disappointing twists in recent film. I am still going to recommend the film, but more for what it could have been than for what it truly is.
Not guilty, but I can only imagine what Sunshine might have been.
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