An irony of the space movie subgenre is that although few are made these days, the precedent has been so powerfully and influentially set by a mighty few that the few new entries still have difficulty carving a niche. The latest, Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, is so overtly a melange of prior movies that for once I couldn’t escape that hackneyed critical fallback of “This Movie meets That Movie”: Sunshine is “Solaris meets Alien meets The Fountain”. Or I could more facetiously simplify it as “Event Horizon, only good.”

The similarities to Paul W.S. Anderson’s forgettable space horror are disquieting, right down to the final threat, but the tone and ambiguity of Sunshine are sufficiently divergent that we shouldn’t be ringing the plagiarism bells. We enter the story partway through an international mission to re-ignite the sun, which fifty years from now has inexplicably begun to fail. Physicist Robert Capa (Cillian Murphy, reuniting with Boyle after 28 Days Later) has designed a truly massive nuclear device to do the job that is being pushed to the sun by a ship manned by Murphy, Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, Hiroyuki Sanada, Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis, Troy Garity, and Benedict Wong. This is the majority of the cast, but when the ship receives a distress call from its predecessor, presumed destroyed, their situation begins to change…

I don’t want to give away any more than that, but a key twist gives way to a significantly different third act, wherein Sunshine morphs from a claustrophobic science thriller into a quite disturbing horror film, but the transition is surprisingly smooth and logical, aided by Boyle’s hugely accomplished direction. His career is beginning to rival Ang Lee’s in its diversity and consistent quality, as Boyle’s first space film shows others how it’s done, which is all the more remarkable given its moderate budget. While Sunshine is consistently gripping, the third act features audacious camerawork that cleverly keeps the final threat largely unseen, although we see enough to find it truly scary. Then for the final minutes, the film shifts again into a transcendent, beautiful denouement that, although inexplicable to me at the time, was stunning to watch.

Boyle is aided by a strong cast, particularly Byrne, giving her character resilience while never shying away from the painful emotions the situation would unleash, and Evans, a world away from Johnny Storm here as the commanding but sympathetic engineer whose fate is wrenching to watch. The others, apart from Murphy, aren’t as well served, and Yeoh and Sanada are particularly wasted. But a ship needs a crew and 2-hour films can’t always serve them all. It would have helped if writer Alex Garland had avoided the occasional cliché, such as the newly promoted leader giving irrational orders out of fear, but this is largely an intelligent and understated script. I certainly felt more wonder at this elegant $50 million story than the overstuffed $200+ million odysseys offered elsewhere this year.

6 thoughts on “Sunshine

  1. Anonymous says:

    Funny: the “Sunshine” I saw was about smart people doing stupid things that evinced an utter lack of common sense when they weren’t being killed off by the nonsensical design elements around them– or getting bumped off by a blurry– why?– serial killer. Nice to know one of us can still be so easily amused; I thought “Them” (yes, that “Them”– the one about the giant ants, also at the L.A. Film Fest) had a far more intelligent script and a much more solid cast. You got bamboozled by “Sunshine”‘s big, dumb F/X, my friend….

  2. Jack Reed says:

    Okay, whoever you are, if you can’t grasp the notion that opinions aren’t about right and wrong then you’re clearly not ready for the world of blogging, given that the entire reason for their success is people getting to offer their perspective.And besides, not all of us require a movie to make absolute perfect rational sense in order to enjoy it, especially if it’s actually got some style and ambition to it, as Sunshine does. Whinging about characters doing some silly things when in a traumatic situation is about the most Scrooge-like thing a movie-goer can do. Try and feel the damn thing, ya know?And complaining about not seeing the blurry guy? Come on, do you seriously think it would have been as scary if we’d seen him in full view? It sure wasn’t in Event Horizon.Hell of a way to introduce yourself, by the way. Next time you grace my blog with your presence kindly don’t assume that I’m a sucker. Your other rare forays into society won’t end well if that’s how you treat people.

  3. Theeph says:

    Ahh Jack, your kung fu is strong against Trolls.Plus you make some good points in your comment about appreciating movies. They do need to be felt and allowed a little slack (little. Yes I’m talking about you Transformers)I still hug Event Horizon though.

  4. Jack Reed says:

    Thank you, sir. Coming from you that means a lot. :DYeah, it’s a particular pet peeve of mine when people come out of movies and all they can think to talk about are the inaccuracies and plot holes (NOT a pointed reference to your Transformers assessment). It’s like they’ve hyped themselves up to hate the bloody thing. Where’s the love, people? Why are you even there?

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