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 | , , , ,

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