Sunday, July 01, 2007

I'm walkin on 'Sunshine', whoa--ooo!

Throughout my life, I've come to believe many little bon mots of wisdom I believe to be true. Things like "There's always mini-golf", or "Tom Petty has never written a bad song". (Which was recently adapted into "Aimee Mann has never written a bad song"). One more of these I truly believe is "Danny Boyle does not make a bad film". They can falter towards the end, and there can be missteps, but they aren't bad films.

At this point everyone will say "A Life Less Ordinary" is a tragically awful film, and I disagree strongly. It's a glorious motion picture, full of wit and charm and a genuine belief that love conquers all. (Plus it has a robot!). The only film I didn't quite enjoy was The Beach, but it is not a bad film at all. There are some bizarre missteps (the video game footage comes to mind, but it's still better than the use in House of the Dead), but it's not atrocious. Far from it. The very same can be said of Boyle's latest film Sunshine.

Sunshine is Boyle's first sci-fi film, and it's got a lot on it's mind. Written by Alex Garland, his writer of The Beach and 28 Days Later, Sunshine tells the tale of a dying sun. Our sun. When we first begin, the Fox Searchlight logo is played in reverse, moving away from the logo and into the setting sun in the background that's dimmer than usual. The sun, you see, is burning out, and humanity has gathered together all their resources to send a massive explosive device into the sun that will hopefully restart it.

Actually, they've done it twice. The first mission, Icarus I, left seven years before, but did not succeed and was never heard from again. Now, we are with Icarus II, featuring a multinational crew that represents the last fight of humanity.

All this is prologue, by the way. This information is told to us by Capa (Cillian Murphy) before the title is even shown. Just to give you an idea of what you're getting yourself into. Sunshine is NOT Event Horizon or Armageddon, nor is it 2001 or Solaris. It definitely stands proud among small crew in spaceship while remaining it's own thing. And it's a mighty solid flick. For a long time. Then something happens that doesn't need to happen that makes you wonder what the hell is going on, but I'll get to that later.

So, we're on Icarus II, and we have our crew full of wonderful actors like Rosy Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis, and Chris Evans. We get to see exactly it is how they live, and it all seems scientifically sound. The Icarus II is an impressive ship, which hides behind a giant, solid gold shield that absorbs and deflects the heat and light of the sun. Inside the ship, The observation deck can let in only 2% of the intensity of the light coming from the sun. It can let in 3.1% for about thirty seconds before the intensity becomes too much for a human to take. (Although, it can almost become a drug for some). Even though the sun is dying out, it's still an intense celestial orb not to be messed with.

The film takes a turn when the crew hears a distress signal coming from Icarus I. The crew decides to change course, after much deliberation, and the consequences of this choice are what the movie chronicles. What I like about the movie is that it takes it's time getting to these points, very naturalistic and cause and effect. It's perfectly paced, and there's always a small sense of dread about the ultimate consequences of these characters and their actions.

All the performances are great, but the honest stand out, in my opinion is Chris Evans. His character alternates between the most rational thinker on the ship and the biggest jerk. But he's pretty badass throughout. Cillian Murphy is also good as the ship's physicist who is the only person who can activate the bomb payload. The dynamic between these two characters is the best through the flick, and both actors bring their A game. And it's nice to see Michelle Yeoh in a movie again. She's still got it, man.

The visual effects are a flawless blend of miniatures and CGI. There's one shot where two of the crew members have to venture out onto the shield and you see from above the vastness of space underneath them. It freaked me out. But there's a great sense of detail to everything. There's also an unbelievable sound design to this film that blends well with the score from John Murphy and Underworld. See this film in a theater with the best picture quality and sound system you can find. It's a visual and sonic delight.

As for the story, though, there's something that happens with about a third left to go in the movie. I won't spoil it any more than I already have, but I can say for me, personally, it didn't work. It tried to do something, and I respect what it was trying to do. I just loathed the way it was done. It's not videogame Leo annoying, but it just tries to hijack the movie and turn it into something it's not. It doesn't tear the movie apart, or stop it in it's tracks, so much as go somewhere it didn't need to.

(And while many may make comparisons to Event Horizon, it's not as apt as many will claim it to be. As I mentioned before, the science and logic to the events in the film is sound. That's all I'll say).

The ending turned me off a little bit, but it doesn't diminish the amazing two thirds of movie that comes before it. Danny Boyle made a great film with a small misstep. It's still a visually outstanding film, full of big ideas over thrills and sensationalism. And while there is some of that too, it comes from an organic and humane place. While not a masterpiece, it is still a marvel of modern sci-fi cinema.

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