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Sunshine

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Caffeinated Clint
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Clint is the creator, editor and maintainer of Moviehole.

Some Internet chatter has already pointed to the awry science of the film, but let’s face it – true to life space travel comprises four or five people strapped into chairs for hours at a time. If the sun was dying in 50 years and we sent a hastily-prepared mission to reignite it with a city-sized bomb, you can’t help felling this is exactly what it would be like.


Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis, Troy Garity, Hiroyuki Sanada

The premise sells itself. It’s 50 years in the future, and humankind faces extinction because the sun has inexplicably started to die, leaving the Earth a snowy soon-to-be tomb.

It could have gone either way. Michael Bay might have made it into a virtua-mechanistic military fable, full of clanking weapons, a battle between spaceship armies and cutaways to wives and families at home, the American flag hanging proudly in the windows of their farmhouses…

Or it could have been a Tartovskyesque exercise in navel-gazing reflection on a very human theme, like the original Solaris.

Danny Boyle, who’s barely struck a bad note in his stellar career, has found a happy medium. No, make that an overjoyed medium, because that’s how you’ll feel emerging from the theatre, knowing the science fiction genre has been restored to its former glory.

Once the realm of highly intelligent treatises on the human condition, science fiction devolved into a kids genre with the advent of modern effects. A certain Messers Spielberg and Lucas – though they revitalised the medium of cinema – sucked the high art right out of sci-fi, leaving it a light and sound show with little to offer except second weekend dropoff.

But Boyle places himself right up there among the canon of names who once made science fiction serious and reflective –Dick, Hammett, Huxley, Soylent Green, Silent Running, even (dare we say it?)… Kubrick himself.

He does so by taking every single aspect of the film seriously, treating the dialogue with as much respect as the CGI. The sci-fi of old with it’s Plan 9-like spaceships on wires didn’t have the tools available to filmmakers today, but they’re the same tools too many directors allow to carry a whole movie – forgetting character, drama and realism.

Boyle gets every aspect perfect, from the relationships between eight very real people to the dreamy visuals of the Icarus II drifting through space.

Described by Boyle himself as ‘eight astronauts strapped to a bomb heading for the sun’ (the pitch from screenwriter Alex Garland that clinched his interest), “Sunshine” tells the story of the second mission to rescue humankind from the dying sun by delivering an explosive the size of Manhattan into the core of the sun to kick it out of neutral. Following the sudden dimming of our star, the first mission – the Icarus 1 – disappeared and was never heard from again.

So a small group of scientists and spaceship pilots are riding a giant sunshield on a years-long round trip to try again. The Icarus II is a thin, long, spindly craft based on real NASA designs, and it shows. The ship not only looks the real deal, it’s the perfect visualisation of the confines that rub everyone up the wrong way.

You’ll recognise some very shopworn sci-fi stalwarts; the gradual loss of crewmembers in spectacular and heartbreaking fashion, the failure of earthbound engineering in deep space, the fragility of the crew’s faith in what they have to do. But in Boyle and Garland’s hands, every beat feels and looks new.

Watch “Shallow Grave” and “Sunshine” back to back and you’ll barely believe they’re from the same director. Not because of a difference in quality – but because after graduating from low maintenance drama about human relationships, Boyle’s feel for telling the story by manipulating the image is stunning. Almost every frame is punctuated by a flare of light, a distortion of vision, the semi-blindness of a dream.

It’s the script that elicits such realistic performances from the cast despite the ability of each player, and Boyle does it justice and complements it with some of the most effective effects work in recent history.

Some Internet chatter has already pointed to the awry science of the film, but let’s face it – true to life space travel comprises four or five people strapped into chairs for hours at a time. If the sun was dying in 50 years and we sent a hastily-prepared mission to reignite it with a city-sized bomb, you can’t help felling this is exactly what it would be like.

Boyle lets the dialogue, effects, music and drama prop each other up, none of them struggling for room or taking centre stage, and the result is pure science fiction as it always should have been.

Rating :
Reviewer : Drew Turney

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Clint is the creator, editor and maintainer of Moviehole.

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