Skip to main content

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #355: Sunshine


The proof that there are no movie genres British filmmaker Danny Boyle will not tackle, his science-fiction thriller “Sunshine” aims to go where no sci-fi movie has gone before: the inside of the sun. Impossible? Most likely, but then again that is why they attach the word “fiction” to science.

This is a movie to watch on a cold winter afternoon, which is exactly what I ended up doing when I first saw it. I missed out on this film when it first came out in 2007, so I had to make-do and rent the DVD. This was back when I was living off campus at the university of Sherbrooke, in Québec. No roommates, so this was just me in my tiny apartment during one of my days off, unless I would go to the campus’ film club that specialized in cult movies. Seeing “Sunshine” for the first time, I thought it could eventually end up on a cult film list.

Like most outer space adventures, “Sunshine” is set on a single ship with crewmembers who have to learn to live with each other for months. Their ship is the Icarus II and their mission is to succeed where Icarus I failed: reigniting the sun. Sometime in the future the sun is dying, plunging the Earth into a new ice age. The solution is of course to build a ship with a shield powerful enough to penetrate the sun and detonate a bomb inside its core in the hope of heating up the Earth once again. Obviously, this is a one-way ticket.

This being in the near future when humanity has combined all of its resources for a common mission, the crew of the Icarus II is made up of scientists and astronauts from all over the globe. Irishman Cillian Murphy is Robert Capa, the physicist in charge of detonating a bomb with the power to reignite the sun. American Chris Evans is Mace, an engineer, Australian Rose Byrne is Cassie, a pilot, Malaysian Michelle Yeoh is Corazon, a biologist, New Zealander Cliff Curtis is Searle, the ship’s doctor/psychological officer, American Troy Garrity is Harvey, a communications officer, Japanese Hiroyuki Sanada is Kaneda, the ship’s captain, and British born Benedict Wong is Trey, the navigator. Here are seven characters of international backgrounds who each have a specific job on a ship heading towards the warmest place in the solar system.

Like many science-fiction films, the ship itself has a voice, provided by Chipo Chung, making it a full-fledged character. In fact, “Sunshine” has a lot in common with many classics of the genre. “Alien” comes to mind, since the crew eventually has to deal with an unwelcome guest, played by a British actor who specializes in villains. There are also evocations of “Solaris,” “Silent Running” and “2001: A Space Odyssey,” as they all feature skeleton crews confined to a ship that has very little chances of landing back on Earth one day.

Yet “Sunshine” manages to stand on its own two feet. For one thing, in this age of green screens it is admirable to see a production crew willing to build giant stages and sets for the ship’s interiors. Michelle Yeoh’s biologist is in charge of providing the ship with enough oxygen to make it to its far-away destination, and in order to do so; she has her own garden filled with oxygen producing plants. Just about each character has his own special room for his or her job on the ship.

Of all of these characters, Searle, the psychological officer is initially the most disturbing. He may be in charge of the crew’s sanity, but he has the unusual habit of sitting in a room with a pair of sunglasses and staring at the sun while constantly lowering the window’s solar shield. It is as though he is a moth staring at the world’s biggest flame, and is wondering what is the burning point.

The film goes into action mode in the third act with the introduction of a character whose survival is very improbable, but until then, this is a very psychological tale. Imagine having to live in a metal box for months, with only six other people, and knowing you will die if your mission succeeds. On the flip side, if your mission fails, everyone you know on Earth will eventually die of cold. Now, how do these crewmembers sleep at night? This may be inaccurate science fiction, but it is very compelling fiction.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #316: Trainspotting

In the 1990s Hollywood directors were the kings of cinema, whether it was for big summer blockbusters or smaller independent films. Guys like James Cameron or Michael Bay would blow up the screens while Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino put the emphasis on snappy dialogue that created relatable characters for the moviegoers. Then in 1996, as if to scream “we can do this too,” Danny Boyle released Trainspotting in the United Kingdom.
Based on a novel by Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, the movie took the world by storm despite having no explosions, a cast of actors who were relatively unknown and a budget that today could barely pay for the catering of a Transformers movie. Furthermore this is not the story of young people going to college to enter a life full of promise, but about young heroine addicts meandering through the streets of Edinburgh. Despite introducing these characters during an energetic montage set to Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge in …

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #364: Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers (1994) is not so much a movie as an American nightmare come to life. Loosely based on a story by Quentin Tarantino, starring some of the wildest actors in Hollywood at the time, and boasting a level of violence that unfortunately inspired copycat crimes, it is the textbook definition of controversial. In all fairness there are important messages amidst all the violent mayhem, but director Oliver Stone throws so much content at the screen that these messages can sometimes get lost in the carnage.
Even though the movie came out more than two decades ago it still has a legendary status, which I learned about while reading a chapter in a book about Tarantino’s career. The book, Quintessential Tarantino, contained a lot of interesting facts about the making of the movie and also spoiled the ending, but reading a few words that describe a killing spree is very different than seeing it portrayed on screen. A few years ago the director’s cut became available on Netflix, wh…