A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 168 – Sunshine (2007)

Sunshine (2007) – August 15th, 2010

Last night when we were chatting after the movie, talking about what to put in tonight, Andy mentioned this movie, saying he was pretty sure it was a sort of nothingish movie with Kevin Sorbo. So I looked it up. And I’m not sure what movie he was thinking of, but Kevin Sorbo’s not in this, and it’s far from the mindless space cheese action movie I was sort of expecting. It wasn’t super cerebral, but it certainly had a lot more thought put into it, and expected from it, than one might think given the basic plot description.

Fifty years in the future, our sun is dying, gradually dimming and causing the Earth to go into a new ice age. The crew of the Icarus II has been sent in a state-of-the-art ship with a gigantic bomb to try and reignite the sun. That right there sounds like a typical space action flick. But really that’s all just the stakes for the film. It’s the setting for all of the real plot, which is what happens when people are trapped together in a confined space under intense pressure with the fate of all humanity riding on their shoulders. It’s about how people break. As psychological thriller impetus goes, the fate of humanity and the confines of a space ship do make for fertile ground.

It all begins when the Icarus II picks up a distress signal from the Icarus I, which was lost on a similar mission seven years earlier. The crew looks to the resident physicist, Capa, for a decision on whether to try and rendezvous with the other ship. On one hand, diverting the Icarus II is risky and could cost them time and resources. On the other hand, the Icarus I might have survivors, supplies, and most importantly, their undelivered payload, i.e. insurance. A second chance. As Capa states outright, that isn’t a decision, it’s a guess. And he picks a side: Go to the Icarus I and see what they can salvage. It’s a fateful decision. It makes the movie, and we’re not allowed to forget that and neither is he.

Of course things go wrong. This wouldn’t be much of a movie if everything went peachy keen and they had a big party with the Icarus I crew, did some repairs, bombed the sun and went home, hurrah. Things have to go wrong in order for there to be a movie for us to watch, and tension to keep our attention. The course diversion goes wrong, causing damage which endangers the chances of the mission succeeding so they have to go to the Icarus I. And things go wrong there. Things already went wrong there. The big issue here is a matter of belief in the mission. Should it happen? Do we deserve to live? Capa’s call to check on the Icarus I put everything in motion, but on the Icarus I there had already been a crisis. Who’s to say that if things had continued to go smoothly for the Icarus II, no one would have broken in the way the Icarus I crew did? In a way, the need for Capa and the others to fight for their immediate survival seems to motivate them to fight for the survival of humanity.

One by one the crew are sacrificed, or sacrifice themselves. For all of humanity. Because they believe that they can make themselves live. That their determination will prove the outcome. I’d warn for spoilers, but the movie isn’t terribly optimistic about whether its cast will survive the mission. And that’s a large portion of the movie’s emotional weight. You don’t want them to die, but everything that happens feels so terribly inevitable. Not in a bad way, I want to assure you. It’s not that it’s particularly predictable or anything. It’s just that I never got the feeling from the outset of the movie that this mission had a very high probability of survival. Hope is one thing, but numbers are another.

One of the things I truly enjoyed about the movie was that it had an ensemble cast. Sure, there’s Cillian Murphy as Capa and Rose Byrne as Cassie, the ship’s pilot, who are positioned early on to have an emotional connection and who provide some good counterpoints to each other. But they’re not really romantic leads, and there’s also Chris Evans as Mace, the engineer, and Michelle Yeoh, the ship’s biologist who’s maintaining their oxygen garden. There’s Cliff Curtis as Searle, the ship’s doctor; Troy Garrity as Harvey, the ship’s communications officer; Benedict Wong as Trey, the ship’s navigator; and there’s Hiroyuki Sanada as Kenada, the ship’s captain. Of course, as I mentioned, people are sacrificed. Some of them make that decision for themselves, others are accidental, or because there is no choice. But it’s an interesting crew as presented in the beginning. Capa and Mace butt heads, Cassie’s blase about it all. Searle is working on keeping everyone in working condition and Kenada is concerned about the failure of the Icarus I. We get to see everyone doing their jobs and being competent. We get to see everyone trying to make the mission work, even if they don’t always get along. We get to see their worries and fears and connections, both good and bad. I might not be entirely thrilled with the decision to make the two female characters the more sentimental crewmembers, but I am glad that they weren’t the ones to completely snap and send emotional shrapnel flying around, so I can forgive the former on the strength of the latter.

I forgive the movie’s science fiction babble too. Of course it’s not 100% scientifically accurate. It’s sci-fi. It’s going to have things like blowing out airlocks and people with no suits flying unprotected through open space. I’ve seen that a bunch of times. It’s got a talking computer that has some interestingly inflected lines (spoken excellently by Chipo Chung). It’s going to have induced gravity because otherwise filming would be a pain in the ass. It’s going to fudge the numbers here and there for the sake of the plot. The science isn’t the point here. The point is what’s at stake and what the characters are willing to do about it. Not whether they adjust the temperature of outer space to account for the proximity to the sun in a single throwaway line. So I forgive any science blunders. They obviously tried and from what I’ve read they had a consultant from CERN, so I’m satisfied there. Nothing was so egregious that it make me go “Oh come ON!” and cause me to lose my focus on the plot.

Through the course of the movie I found myself caring about the characters and what they were going through. That’s a great thing for a sci-fi suspense movie. The acting is really excellent, with Mark Strong making enough creepy appearances as Pinbacker, the captain of the Icarus I, to really up the tension. I was thrilled to see Chris Evans pull off a more serious role than what I’ve seen him in before. Really, the whole cast pulled off their parts. If they hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gotten so invested in them. And that makes the movie. Yes, it had a budget and the visuals are amazing. Yes, some of the effects used for the sun and Pinbacker’s appearances were truly impressive. There was clearly a lot of time and thought put into things like the interiors of the ship and its overall look, and the suits the crew wears out on EVAs. But it’s the script and the performances that drive the movie. This is one of those movies I’m doing this project for. A movie I knew we owned, knew nothing about, and was immensely and pleasantly surprised by.

August 15, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment


August 15, 2010


So this is pretty cool. Apparently Danny Boyle, the director of Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, and 28 Days Later also did a very cool 2001 inspired sci-fi adventure Sunshine. What’s strange is that I dind’t really hear any buzz about this movie. I saw it on my store shelves, but we never had very many copies and I heard almost nothing about it. I sort of had it in my head that it was some kind of cheesy direct-to-video action adventure… I think maybe I had it confused with some other movie that came out at the same time. I picked it up mostly because it had Danny Boyle’s name on the box.

Whatever the case, I was deeply mistaken about this movie. This is not a silly little action film. It is a deep, cool, frightening suspense thriller set in space. Think of it as a combination of the first Alien movie and 2001. It captures that mood of isolation and crazy for a small crew far from home as things begin to unravel for their mission.

The story is of the last possible hope for all life on Earth. The sun has gone out, and a small crew has been sent with a bomb the size of Manhattan to re-ignite it.Once before a ship was sent on the same mission, but it disappeared and was never heard from again. This movie follows the second, and last attempt. All the remaining fissionable material on Earth is packed into the payload of the Icarus II so there will be no third try – the crew of this ship must accomplish their mission or all life in the solar system will die. (I pointed out to Amanda that perhaps they should have named the second ship the Daedalus, thus increasing their chances. But I guess it WAS Icarus that flew too close to the sun.) The crew consists of captain Kaneda, comm officer Harvey, psychiatrist Searle, computer specialist Trey, botanist Corazon, engineer Mace, pilot Cassie and physicist Capa. As we join the crew they are just reaching the point where electromagnetic interference from the sun will soon make it impossible for them to communicate with Earth any longer. They’re on their own, and all of humankind depends on them.

Of course they start to crack almost immediately. The movie starts with Searle on the observation deck, just looking at the sun. It slowly becomes apparent through the course of the movie that exposure to the kind of blinding light that the sun provides at this proximity has a overwhelming effect on the brain. Searle likens it to the hallucinations one experiences in a sensory deprivation tank, but in reverse. The light, if the shutters are lowered and even 3% is allowed through the ships filters, washes over you and surrounds you. It can alter the way you think.

Then, as the ship slingshots around Mercury they discover the faint distress call of the first Icarus, still in stable orbit around the sun. They now have to decide if it’s worth changing their course to rendezvous with the other ship. Nobody knows what happened to it and why it was unable to complete its mission, but they judge that their chances will be improved if they have access to additional resources. Particularly if they can use the payload from the Icarus I, since there’s no guarantee that their mega-bomb will even work. You can probably guess that things don’t go well, otherwise it would be a kind of short and uninteresting movie. The only question is just what exactly is going to go wrong, and why.

Danny Boyle does a great job keeping the tension going right through the movie. The direction is claustrophobic and gritty, as you would expect with such subject matter. The special effects are great, and I give extra props to the sound design, since so much of the power of the movie comes from the creaks and groans of the ailing ship and from the ever present roaring, sizzling rage of the sun. As the title would imply sunlight plays a large part in the movie. It’s a motivator, a ruthless force of nature, and almost a character of its own. I’m glad that they did so great a job giving the sun impact, force and almost a voice of its own.

There are a lot of strange Danny Boyle editing tricks used as well. Subliminal frames within light glare for example and odd pops and freezes in the action. Indeed there were several parts of the climactic scene that made me wonder if perhaps my DVD was damaged, but I think it’s more likely that it’s the directorial style. Watching this so soon after watching Slumdog Millionaire I began to feel that I had a sense for Danny’s style. It’s like beginning to recognize his handwriting on the film.

It also helps that Danny has this stellar cast to carry his vision. Particularly striking are the kind of quiet desperation of Capa, played by Cillian Murphy. He presents the opening narration and is the sort of heart of the cast, the most human of them at times. There’s also Chris Evans as Mace, who is both the most action-heroic of the crew and the most bloodthirstilly pragmatic. If they had listened to his advice from the beginning things would have gone a lot better. Most of the other roles are foils or smaller bits, but when you have only seven or eight cast members pretty much everybody is going to have some great moments to shine, and sine they do. Michelle Yeoh is wonderfully touching, more in love with her plants than with the people that the O2 from the onboard garden is meant to support. Cliff Curtis does a great job portraying somebody slowly becoming obsessed with forces beyond their control, something which needs to be established to explain much of the action in the second half of the movie.

I’d say that this is a movie aware of its roots. It is reminiscent of Event Horizon and Sphere. It actually has a comedic reference to Alien when they are splitting up while exploring the derelict Icarus I. It fits right in with the desperation of Silent Running or 2001. All in all an excellent addition to a quite rare and selective genre. I’m glad it’s in our collection.

August 15, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment