A particularly beautiful movie


I first became aware of Danny Boyle's 2007 Sunshine via the breathtaking soundtrack composed for the movie by John Murphy and the band Underworld. (Credit where due, I first heard the soundtrack courtesy this brilliant video.) One thing led to another, and I found myself on the Wikipedia article for Sunshine, a little known film with a big cast, big production, big special effects and a big story.


In 2050, the sun is dying out, leaving the world in perpetual darkness and winter. The Icarus spacecraft was sent from Earth to detonate a stellar bomb in the sun, in theory reigniting the star and bringing light and warmth back to our planet. For unknown reasons, the mission failed, and seven years later, the Icarus II, under the command of Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada) leaves Earth to accomplish the task of its predecessor.


Needless to say, it's not that easy.



Unfortunately, it's not that easy for the wrong reasons. Boyle and his cast & crew do a phenomenal job of conveying the danger of deep-space travel, while sitting on a stellar bomb "with a mass equivalent to Manhattan Island" as they journey dangerously close to a star that can disintegrate flesh by simple exposure - even as its dying. That's fine. No, that's better than fine, it's great, and fortunately, that makes up a majority of the movie.


The minority of the movie, which sees the appearance of Capt. Pinbacker (Mark Strong) to really send the mission to hell, is the jarring, unfortunate step back. Maybe someone felt it was necessary to inject a little action into what was otherwise a slow-moving, surreal, psychological film, wearing its 2001: A Space Odyssey influence proudly. So we go from that to 1997's Event Horizon, another film that started out with great promise but then spun wildly off-course.


The difference, though, is that even though Sunshine takes a weak detour, the initial journey is strong. Much thought was put into making the ensemble cast - Cillian Murphy, Michelle Yeoh, Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, Cliff Curtis, Troy Garity, Sanada and Benedict Wong - look and feel like a crew sent deep, deep into space on a dangerous mission. From the method acting to the deliberate composition of Chinese and American characters, everything about the Icarus II jettisons science fiction tropes and clichés in favor of telling a gritty, tight story. True, there are creative licenses taken - like the questionable science - but Sunshine isn't about what will really make the sun die. Sunshine is about the look on Capa's (Murphy) face as he touches the surface of the sun.


So the movie works best if you remember it for everything not involving Pinbacker. Think instead of the jaw-dropping CGI effects that freeze the inner surface of the sun and let you see billions of flames dance upon the dying star, or John Murphy's achingly beautiful score, or the fact that we barely see the planet Earth in the course of the movie, placing us directly with the crew of eight men and women. And you're almost there, sweat gathering on your brow and feeling the claustrophobia of the Icarus II. And yet you're not quite there, because the about-turn space-horror subplot detracts and distracts from what would otherwise have been a flawless film. Instead, like its score, Sunshine is achingly beautiful, making you feel its pain about how much better it could have been.


4.0/5.0: Sunshine comes so close to being a truly great film about so many things, but is instead tarnished by an inexplicable change of tone.