Friday, April 27, 2007


Before I wrote this review, Danny Boyle had only ever really disappointed me one time, with his disastrous adaptation of Alex Garland’s The Beach. He bounced back though, with a bloody-minded vengeance, with 28 Days Later (from a script by Garland), and followed that up with the charming curve ball, Millions.
Boyle then re-teamed with Garland for Sunshine.

Now, Boyle’s disappointed me one and a half times.

The Icarus II is on a mission.
Our sun is dying, and so is our planet. Following the failure of a previous mission (thus, the Roman numeral), Captain Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada, recognizable from the Ringu films) and his crew are presently in transit, with the payload that will signal a literal dawning of a new age on Earth, should they succeed.
The mission: to detonate a stellar bomb the size of Manhattan Island, in the sun, and thus, re-ignite it, giving humanity a second chance.

We’ve all seen this one before: the very survival of the human race in the hands of a crew on board a spaceship. (Sadly, we all still remember Armageddon and Deep Impact, don’t we?)
Now, not only is Sunshine a film from the Save the Planet from Destruction school, it’s also that particular sort of sci-fi film that seems to be an exercise in giving the Ten Little Indians a remedial course in Murphy’s Law.

We all know that in the course of completing their mission, the crew will make a singular, catastrophic decision that will then become the crux for the entire film’s narrative.
This will occur because, A) the decision was inherently the wrong one to make in the first place (see Alien), or B) human error will bollocks the whole thing up.
In Sunshine’s case, it’s B.
Fit will then continue to hit the shan as the story unfolds, repeatedly proving Murphy’s Law to the audience’s satisfaction, as the Indians drop like flies.
All the while, completion of the mission parameters will look increasingly bleak, till the last minute, when the day will be saved by the remaining crew members. (Survival of said crew members by end credits roll, uncertain.)

The reason Sunshine doesn’t do it for me is precisely because Boyle and Garland never seem to successfully transcend the confines of this type of sci-fi film. The structure of the film’s narrative is pretty much as outlined above, so the proceedings get pretty by-the-numbers in very short fashion.
Additionally, in a set-up like this, the characters aren’t usually very deep. The performances can elevate the material though, and supply us with subtext, with the impression that these people have lives beyond this ship, and have real relationships between each other. (Again, see Alien.)
Now, there aren’t necessarily any outright terrible performances in Sunshine. Most though, are serviceable, and not much else. Perhaps the only actors who manage to deliver something noteworthy are Cillian Murphy (as Capa; Murphy’s worked with Boyle and Garland before, on 28 Days Later), and Rose Byrne (as Cassie; Byrne was in Sofia Coppola’s brilliant Marie Antoinette, and incidentally enough, in the upcoming sequel, 28 Weeks Later).
Murphy is the only one whose character we really see in some significant personal private moments (sending off a message to his parents Earthside, for one), while Byrne’s Cassie brings a much-needed level of humanity to the crew (she’s the only one who seems to really give a damn about her other crew members, as opposed to blindly chanting the “complete the mission” mantra).

Beyond the fact that Sunshine isn’t as horrible as The Beach (and it’s certainly better than either of the asteroid movies), there isn’t much else I can say in its favor.
It’s serviceable sci-fi, but certainly not great. It does benefit, however, from Boyle’s sharp visual stylings, which go a long way to making the film an agreeable viewing experience.
Admittedly, Sunshine does have its moments.

Thus, it’s only a half-disappointment for me.
I mean, this is the writer-director team that gave the zombie film a welcome do-over with 28 Days Later, so when I first heard they were tackling science fiction, I got excited. So that’s months and months of anticipation, and now that I’ve seen it, well, Sunshine just doesn’t cut it.
Which is sad. I wanted to love this movie. I wanted to sit there as the end credits rolled and have that same rush I had after I’d seen 28 Days Later, that rush of having just experienced excellent cinema.
All I thought after Sunshine ended was, “Well, at least it wasn’t as bad as The Beach.”

(Sunshine OS courtesy of

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