Review: “Sunshine”

I enjoy being cynical. Anybody who’s read even a handful of my posts will know that. But, like a character in a bad movie, I have a soft spot for certain things.

One of those is great science fiction. I was impressed by the writings of Arthur C. Clarke, Charles Stross, and Isaac Asimov. I was intrigued by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. And I was greatly moved by Danny Boyle’s Sunshine.

Sunshine is the story of a group of astronauts sent to deliver a bomb to “re-start” the dying sun. This plot sounds remarkably standard, and in a way it is, but then again, so is “Man wakes up in a post-civilized world, surrounded by zombies and struggling survivors,” and Danny Boyle managed to make that one come alive in 28 Days Later.

This may sound like disjointed gushing, but I honestly believe that Sunshine has to be one of the best science fiction films of the last ten or twenty years. The characters are very compelling, and unlike in most movies (science fiction or otherwise) of today, they actually feel like human beings. You come to feel for them, to understand them. Very rarely does one see that in movies these days.

The special effects are — and I feel like something of a fool for saying this — beautiful. Never before have I seen modern CGI used to such tremendous effect. The film manages to portray the sun’s incomprehensible brightness, and something of its great beauty as well. I never thought I’d say this, but for once, a movie left me with a profound appreciation for something.

The effects are impressive primarily because they mesh so well with the film’s overall artistic style. This style is incredibly rich and deep, and very compelling. I’m not sure how, but somehow, Sunshine manages to blend sound and light, letting our ears take over when the light gets too bright for our eyes to even comprehend. The movie makes light seem very substantial, very real, and dangerously beautiful.

This blurring between sound and light serves to accentuate the soundtrack, which is up to the extraordinarily high standards Boyle set in 28 Days Later. Frank Murphy and Underworld score the film with what has to be one of the most haunting soundtracks I’ve ever heard. Even the sound of a distress beacon is heavy with emotional impact, a lonely, heartbreaking sound that fits so well with the rest of the movie.

So, I’m several paragraphs into my review and already I’ve sung Sunshine‘s praises as though it were the god of my new religion. Make no mistake, the film is not a golden gift from the gods, but it gets about as close as any mainstream movie. Nonetheless, there were elements that bothered me. The movie developed a withering, aimless feel in its later scenes, and did not recover until somewhere near the end. There’s a rather oddly recurring villain who adds a confusing fundamentalist religious element to these scenes as well, and whom they might have done without. And, it fell victim to that omnipresent scourge, weak science.

In this case, however, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before, and will hopefully never do again: I’m going to forgive Boyle for his bad science. It’s a very rare thing when the characters are moving enough, the story is good enough, and the visuals are pretty enough to make me gloss over scientific omissions and mistakes, but that’s what happened here. Hell, I was even willing to ignore the fact that the film had sounds in the vacuum of space (which regular readers will know annoys me to no end). That’s how good the rest of the film is. It’s definitely a must-see for nerds and science-fiction fans. Normal people would probably enjoy it, too.

NOTE: Yes, I am fully aware that Sunshine came out in 2007. I’d intended to see it on the big screen (and I imagine it was even more incredible in the theater), but since there was less publicity than I’d been expecting, I somehow missed it when it was in theaters. Damn.

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