A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.


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 | , , , ,

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