sunshine

12 04 2007

Cillian Murphy, Michelle Yeoh, Chris Evans
Danny Boyle (dir) 2007

Sunshine treks through space with the obvious comparisons burning up against it’s own self-belief, like the conflagration against the giant shield protecting our heroes in their spaceship, Icarus II. This film is less histrionic than Event Horizon, more human than Alien, and perhaps more affecting than both.

That’s not to say it’s better than either of these films. It’s certainly subtle, and in fact starts a bit too slow, leaving the audience with enough time to wonder why exactly these seven people, out of the entire population of earth, were picked to save humanity by dropping a bomb into the dying sun.

You’d think that out of all the people in the entire world you could find a slightly more professional group, less given to wandering away from consoles at crucial points or making “We’re going to die!”-like remarks every time something goes even slightly wrong. Because setting out on a mission like this, even without the disappearance of a previous attempt, you’d have to face up to the fact that you might never return from, let’s face it, day one of training.

And while we’re at it, why are these spaceships always painted menacing grey and sterile white? This may be a film about the human effects of isolation and separation from the community (like The Beach) but why couldn’t they just paint the corridors a nice pastel pink and make sure everybody knows how to tell a joke?

And isn’t that name – Icarus – just a wee bit fatalistic?

And while we’re on the subject of willing suspension of technological disbelief, what’s the point of the onboard computer having a HAL-style personality if it means they have to play twenty questions with it just to work out anything important? Don’t they have alarms? Don’t they have a sprinkler system that actually works?

And why do they only have one of everything (one airlock, one hydroponics bay)?

I would have liked to see more Apollo 13-style technical detail generating tension. The moment where one of the characters, encumbered by a spacesuit, falls down and can’t get up was more dramatic and emotionally charged than any of the creepy stalker stuff.

Generating dramatic tension from unconvincing technical nonsense and from the character’s own silly mistakes is a bit unsatisfying, but ignore the mostly unoriginal production design and the characters shine through (even if their core competencies don’t – these are the best and the brightest?). The crew-in-peril tropes, like ‘who’s going to snap first?’ or ‘how far will each of them go to protect the mission?’ are all present and correct, but cliché is deftly sidestepped through a subtle script and underplayed performances.

Cillian Murphy is soulful as ever, and even Chris Evans manages to bring sensitivity and nuance to what could have been a hackneyed ‘mission comes first’ gung-ho military hardhead. Hiroyuki Sanada also stands out despite not having much to work with, giving a performance of zen-like dignity as the Captain.

Things get going when the crew encounter the first Icarus mission, especially in a tense sequence involving chilling use of subliminal images. The end feels a bit rushed after the slowburn of the earlier stages, and would be more effective if the climactic fight was swapped with the what felt like the truer climax, a spectacular and wonderfully visceral spacewalk moments earlier with great music and real tension.

Oh yeah, the whole exercise may also remind you a bit of the Doctor Who episode ‘The End of the World’. But hey, we see the sun every day, and it’s still beautiful.

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