Thursday, January 10, 2008
QUICK REVIEW: SUNSHINE
Danny Boyle's SUNSHINE (***) starts off amazingly and then crashes and burns. I couldn't believe it to be honest. For the first 75 minutes of watching this film I was totally engrossed, in love with what I was seeing. Smart, reality-based science fiction is tough to come by these days and I was relieved to see a heady, low-budget take on a grand space idea that was thoroughly thought out and well developed. Then, the screenwriter Alex Garland (who also wrote Boyle's 28 DAYS LATER), decided to sabotage his script by adding a horror/monster element to an otherwise cerebral mix of space exploration and moral conflict. Why? Why did he do this? I just don't get it. SUNSHINE supposes that our sun is prematurely dying out. The US government had sent a ship (the Icarus I) up into space with the mission of re-igniting the sun via a nuclear bomb detonation. That ship lost contact with NASA; no word has been heard from them in a few years. So another ship, the Icarus II, blasts off for space, looking to complete the mission, while the earth below freezes in a new ice age. An attractive cast including Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, Cliff Curtis, Michelle Yeoh, and Hiroyuki Sanada are the astronauts of the Icarus II. But they are detoured when a radio signal from the Icarus I can be heard as they orbit Mercury; do they veer off course and head for the Icarus I, hopefully to find survivors? Or do they continue on their original mission to the sun? Some of the crew says yes, some of them say no. But it's decided that they will go check on the Icarus I to see if anyone is still alive, and also to retrieve the nuke on board that way they have an additional bomb incase one isn't enough to jumpstart the dying sun. So...we have a nice set up, a scary premise (no sun means no life on earth, duh!), and well written dialogue dealing with human relationships, ideas of mortality, and the importance of science. Also, Boyle, along with his talented cinematographer Alwin Kulcher, ups the visual ante with a variety of in-camera tricks, CGI, practical models, and old-school movie magic. The results are often spectacular. One sequence, imagining what it might be like to step outside of a space ship without a space suit, is freaky beyond belief; I got a shiver. The space ships have unique and interesting designs and the film's technology is a combination of the old and new. And the way Boyle and Kuchler play with color, especially gold, orange, green, and red, is utterly stunning; Kurbrick would have probably loved the palette. But just as the third act was about to kick into gear and I began to wonder where the film was headed, the script turned on a dime, and SUNSHINE degenerated into a monster-house type movie, with the crew being hunted by an otherworldly being (think an icky, mean, Nuclear-Man type villian). Who will survive, if anyone? Boyle, who with films like SHALLOW GRAVE, TRAINSPOTTING, THE BEACH, MILLIONS, and 28 DAYS LATER, has always been a visual innovator, and SUNSHINE is in keeping with that tradition. The film looks stunning all throughout, and it amazes me that it only cost a reported $30 million. There's an epic scope yet intimate feeling that runs through SUNSHINE, and even as the proceedings get more and more looney tunes by the end, Boyle never lets up with his demanding aesthetic. I just wish that he, and Garland, had realized that the film wasn't supposed to end in the fashion that it does. This is a film that should have rationally dealt with the interesting ideas it asks during the first hour and 15 minutes; instead, sitting back on genre conventions, the film gets lazy and predictable. And the tacked-on last scene was completely unnecessary. I wrestled with giving this film ** 1/2 or ***. I settled on ***, thus giving it a slight reccomendation, because purely on a visual level, the film is a marvel and deserves to be seen. Just be ready for a shift in gears late in the film that robs it of its opening brilliance. As impressive as it was to watch, SUNSHINE didn't add up to the final result that it initially promised.