Despite a poor third act, Boyle’s sci-fi-thriller manages to work out in some way.
Dir. Danny Boyle
2007 | UK | Sci-Fi/Thriller | 107 mins | 2.35:1 | English
NC16 (passed clean) for violent content and language
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, Michelle Yeoh, Mark Strong
Plot: A team of astronauts are sent to re-ignite the dying sun 50 years into the future.
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Mainstream
(Reviewed on DVD – first published on 9 Oct 2011)
Sunshine underscores director Danny Boyle’s versatility in working with different genres. He never seems to make two films of the same genre back-to-back. Boyle has made a science-fiction film before with 28 Days Later… (2002), but with elements of horror set in an apocalyptic Britain where humans turn into violent, raged creatures after being infected by a deadly virus.
Sunshine, while also containing elements of horror, is at its heart a tribute to the roots of true science-fiction films best exemplified by Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972). Starring Cillian Murphy as Robert Capa, who with a small team of scientists attempt to reignite the dying Sun fifty years into the future, Sunshine has one of the most absurd plotlines one could ever know. It’s almost unfathomable to think of such a far-fetched scenario.
Such a plot reminds me of the atrocious The Core (2003), a film about trying to drill all the way down to the Earth’s core to set it spinning again. While it is an excuse to exhibit advances in visual effects, The Core severely lacks coherence in storytelling and editing, which are unsurprisingly excellently handled by Boyle in Sunshine.
From the first scene, we are already in space in a huge spacecraft with an even larger shield that protects the craft and crew from intense radiation and luminosity from the Sun. All plot-related logic and absurdity is immediately thrown out the window as we are psychologically and experientially immersed into the crew’s journey towards the Sun.
“At the end of time, a moment will come when just one man remains. Then the moment will pass. Man will be gone. There will be nothing to show that we were ever here… but stardust.”
Much of the ‘science’ in Sunshine is not related to the hard sciences but more towards philosophical themes of existentialism, self-sacrifice, and morality. Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland capture the extremes in human emotions with enough subtlety to juxtapose with the film’s seemingly grandeur concept.
John Murphy’s original score creates the ideal sonic atmosphere, though I must say that Boyle’s trademark eclectic filmmaking style is on show at sporadic moments only, especially towards the end. And thankfully so, as too much self-indulgence could have affected how the film turns out. There are some stunning CG shots of space, with the interplay of light and shadow a clever visual hook. There is not one moment that seems artificial as it is the human story of survival and sacrifice that carries the film rather than its imagery.
There is however one big flaw in Sunshine that unfortunately causes it to literally lose its plot in the final act. It is this one, singular obstacle that prevents Boyle’s film from deserving greatness. It is none other than the shocking appearance of ‘Freddy Krueger’. I won’t say anymore except that the introduction of this character derails the entire film from its devotion to achieving some kind of science-fiction grandeur and cheaply substitutes it with a slasher flick-inspired routine, as if to entertain audiences who until then are probably enthralled by the cinematic experience of the first two acts. But it’s not an excuse to miss this bold but flawed film.