SUNSHINE

Directed by Danny Boyle. 2007.


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Every week professional film reviewers have to spend countless hours sitting through garbage, with the prospect of perhaps one worthwhile offering. Those of us who contribute to Talking Pictures can pick and choose what we see, and I have seldom gone to a film which I haven’t enjoyed. Nor have I ever written about one (though I did write about why I intended to avoid a film which I knew I wouldn’t like).

Now, for the first time, a film I didn’t like at all, contrary to nearly all the professional reviewers who awarded it 4 stars. Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, scripted by Alex Garland, is set 50 years in the future, and tells of a dying sun, a freezing Earth, and a spaceship carrying fissile material which the astronauts aboard (Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Chris Evans et al) intend to deposit into the sun to bring it back to life. After various harrowing adventures they succeed, at the cost of their own lives, and the sun shines out again on the Earth.

I have no objection to sci-fi, which can be exceptionally thought-provoking and can explore ideas which other genres cannot. I love Kubrick’s 2001 - A Space Odyssey, with its beautiful contemplative visuals, its HAL computer as the only really “human” character, and its magical “star-child” ending. I love Tarkovsky’s Solaris, a profound meditation on love and memory where the sci-fi element is almost incidental. I decided to see Sunshine after reading an interview with Danny Boyle which suggested that the film explored existential, spiritual, and transcendental ideas. I detected hardly any of this, save for a brief discussion about the morality of sacrificing one or two crew members in the hope of saving the human race, and a meeting with the crazed commander of an earlier expedition, a kind of Kurtz-figure out of Conrad and Apocalypse Now, who declares that “until you came along I was alone with God for seven years”.

But Sunshine could still be enjoyed at the level of an exciting adventure story. Unfortunately I didn’t, because most of the film consists of bombarding the viewer with fast-moving CGIs and ear-splitting sound, a veritable son et lumiere for the digital age, which for me is simply boring. Others will love it however, and should not be put off by the idiosyncrasies of this viewer; the CGIs (by Alvin Kuchler) are exceptionally impressive if you like that sort of thing (I did like the recreation of a transit of Mercury), apparently for a fraction of what it would cost in Hollywood.

I’m not too bothered about the strange science in the film (we are asked to believe in global freezing, for goodness’ sake!). As in most sci-fi movies there is little scope for great acting, so no real complaints there. Sunshine isn't garbage, but I just wish that the makers had borne in mind that space is silent, and that astronauts would see very little movement.

Alan Pavelin
 
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