Directed by Danny Boyle
Written by Alex Garland
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Benedict Wong, Chris Evans, and Mark Strong.
Length: 1 hour and 47 minutes
Genre: Adventure, sci-fi, thriller
MPAA Rating: R
Description from IMDB:
“A team of international astronauts are sent on a dangerous mission to reignite the dying Sun with a nuclear fission bomb in 2057.”
A team of scientists are on a journey to reignite the sun because the Earth has begun to freeze over. The Icarus project was created and Icarus I was sent out and lost all communication; seven years later, Icarus II was sent out to try again in a last-ditch effort. 16 months into the voyage, the ship picks up the Icarus I’s distress signal, causing the crew to decide whether or not to adjust their trajectory to intercept. The decision comes down to whether they want to have two bombs in case the first doesn’t work (it is all theoretical), and as such it is Capa (Cillian Murphy), as the ship’s physicist, who must choose. They decide to go for it and slingshot past Mercury; however, Trey (Benedict Wong) forgets to adjust the ship’s shield to their trajectory, and this begins a chain of events that puts not only the crew in jeopardy, but the future of Earth.
Being the last hope of humanity, the Icarus II is decked out (pun intended) with the best technology for the journey. There is an observation deck where the crew can watch the sun and they are able to lower the light filter to let in more; some do this as a sort of meditative experience. There is also an Earth room that acts as a psychological prescription for the crew which shows images of the Earth and nature. In addition to these perks, the ship has an internal garden to replenish oxygen and grow vegetables, and the computer interacts with the crew through voice commands, though this causes some difficulty in the film.
As is bound to happen to a crew stuck in a confined place for many months, there is interplay between the members that grows to more intense levels. The most notable example is between Capa and Mace (Chris Evans). The two naturally butt heads and an altercation occurs when Mace is unable to send a message home before the ship is out of range. Mace is only concerned with the success of the mission, and makes difficult calls in order to continue on. Triage of who lives and who dies in order to conserve oxygen, who goes outside to fix broken panels on the shield, and other high stakes decisions must be made throughout the film and cause heightened tension.
Sunshine makes use of interesting camera tricks and formats in the telling of its story. Video messages that the crew send home use talking head interviews, and mainly focus on Capa’s last message where he says that light takes eight minutes to reach the Earth; so if it is particularly sunny, they’ll know it worked. The spacesuits aboard the Icarus ships are bulky and look like gilded, diving suits that have very limited visibility. It is claustrophobic and the film shows this by using tight shots of the actors inside the helmets at close camera angles. The film also uses subliminal blips of images from the crew picture of the Icarus I when the Icarus II team enters the ship that causes a jarring effect; this effect, combined with the abandoned ship caked in dust, causes an unsettling feeling that leads to a disturbing revelation. Out of focus shots, combined with a blurred camera effect when Captain Pinpacker (Mark Strong) is on camera, create a further sense of unease and tension as eerie sound effects heighten the affects of the visuals.
There is a bit of a tonal shift in the third act where Pinpacker stows away and begins to create chaos aboard the Icarus II. This comes about after a distorted and cryptic recording from the captain plays, which did seem a little overdone in the genre to me. What was initially a story about surviving the trip in order to save humanity becomes a story about surviving a raving madman armed with a terrible skin condition and vibrating scalpels. Though I don’t think it is too far removed from the tension that is inherent in the film, it does become a little jarring in a negative way; as if the stakes weren’t high enough with the ship falling apart around them, there’s now a lunatic spouting religious nonsense and murdering the dwindling crew members.
Sunshine is a hidden gem of a science fiction film; I only learned about it when I stumbled upon it playing on the Sci-Fi Channel and soon knew I had to get a copy of my own to see it for the full effect. I only mentioned on a few of the visual touchstones in this film, but there is a multitude of eye-candy present. As I said earlier, the tone change does lessen the film’s effect on me a little because I think it is unnecessary, but I do think it is a great tool to show other directors and cinematographers how to use the camera to build tension. Sunshine captures great performances, a wonderful soundtrack that I wasn’t even able to discuss in this review, and ends with the hope for mankind restored.
Verdict: 4 aptly named space missions out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of science fiction, fans of Cillian Murphy, people who dislike Chris Evans, fans of Danny Boyle, and those who don’t mind the crushing oblivion of space.
Not recommended for: People who lose all interest when a movie has a slight tonal shift, those not interested in blowing up the sun, the crews of the Icarus I and Icarus II missions, those who sunburn easily, or vampires.