Confession: I like Sci-Fi more than I do Horror. Considerably more, actually, but true Science Fiction, good or bad, is also considerably rarer. Which is why it gives me great pleasure to write about Sunshine. Not only do I get to talk about something different for a change, I also get to talk about what is easily my favorite film of the year. That may make this more of a ramble and less reviewerly, but the ends will justify the means.
Remember when Danny Boyle made 28 Days Later and everyone cited it as the shot in the arm both Horror and zombies needed? Welp, Boyle just did the same thing for Sci-Fi, except he didn’t just settle for giving it a flu shot. The Man – and I use that not as a pronoun, but a proper one – nursed Sci-Fi back to health within 5 minutes of screen time and then proceeded to throw the entire genre in a headlock until it cried Uncle.
And then for good measure Boyle gave it a wedgie during the second half and shoved a crying, acne-faced Sci-Fi into a locker along with Horror.
I went into Sunshine with little knowledge as to the actual premise, and you should too. I pitched it to Christine as, "The Core, but instead of going to the center of the Earth, they are going to the center of the Sun." Granted that is a bit like comparing the intellect of Stephen Hawking to, I don’t know, Eli Roth (zing!), but the analogy is enough to get you there in the premise department. I am markedly hesitant to dish out any more plot details as I feel that if there is any one type of film that lends itself so lovingly to viewer discovery it is the Sci-Fi film, but rest assured Sunshine and The Core share little else in the quality department.
There are the requisite conflicts that seem to arise any time a scientific crew is self-contained, be it on a spaceship or sea lab. Inevitably something goes wrong and someone has to go outside to fix it. One crew member is bound to snap. At some point oxygen is going to become a problem. These obstacles are the gauntlet one runs under the circumstances; what defines the quality isn’t the presence of generic hurdles, but the manner in which they are presented, fought and resolved. As with anything Boyle seems to do, all of these things are never gentle. The presentation is stylish and endlessly subtle in detail. The many fights are brutal affairs going the full 12 rounds. The resolution always an exhausting punch to the kidneys.
The crew of Icarus II are the most fascinating lab bunch since Ridley Scott’s Alien. Cillian Murphy is, of course, a blue-eyed pimp, but the real stand out players are Cliff Curtis as Searle, a man with a solar addiction, and Chris Evans. The latter is definitely the wild card actor of the lot, but proves he is an ac-tor outside of popcorn paychecks.
Special Effects are nuanced and omnipresent enough to create a seamless future environment. The cinematography is beautiful, many of the distinctive shots going toe-to-toe with the originality of The Fountain. The score is graceful and elegant, perfectly complimenting the harsh imagery on screen and the quickening pulse in your veins. The whole thing is a technical wonderment.
One particular segment that shows off the Boyle/Garland mastery of genres is the arrival of several crew members onto the desolate Icarus I. The editing during the sequence is clever, ratcheting the sense of rising discomfort almost exponentially. It is a simple trick, so simple it would sound dumb if I explained it, but believe it’ll glue your eyes in anticipation.
I absolutely love that the core concept of Sunshine is the polar opposite of Event Horizon, a film even the most casual of fans will surely think of while watching. The latter film, which is the only decent thing Paul W.S. Anderson is ever going to do, tells a story of a ship that literally goes to hell and back. The destructive force in Sunshine is one that his been to heaven and back, a quick intellectual jab that atheists will love and the faithful hate.
My apologies if my reluctance to highlight details isn’t doing a bang up job of selling the film. I think the less you know, the better. But know this with absolute confidence: Sunshine is the best piece of cinematic Science Fiction to come out in years. It is the surprise of the summer (and thank God US distribution manned up and put it out now instead of holding off to an original winter run) and I can’t say anything more explanatory than you have got to see this flick if you like Sci-Fi.
You’ve just got to.