Danny Boyle's done some mighty fine work in his past, the altogether wonderful exploration of drug abuse in Trainspotting, his acclaimed The Beach, the haunting 28 Days Later and the brilliantly titled Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise. Now he's turning his attention to the science fiction genre and I always give credit to those directors and actors who try their hands at different types of productions. He mentioned that he wanted to produce a thinking person's sci-fi and that's an admirable statement considering that there's not that many of them about, so how does he fare?
Well it's only fifty years into the future, the sun (for whatever reason) is dying, burning itself out and humanity will die with it. The boffins have come up with a plan though to jump start the sun's incredible fusion reaction and keep it burning for eons to come. To these ends a ship is dispatched with an enormous nuclear payload; the imaginatively named Icarus I. Unfortunately however something goes amiss the sun does not get any brighter, it's presumed that the Icarus has failed in its mission; why this cannot be ascertained is, once inside Mercury's orbit all communication is severed as they enter what is quaintly called 'The Dead Zone'.
All is not lost though as a standby plan kicks in, the Icarus II. Dispatched immediately not to discover the whereabouts or act as International Rescue for The Icarus I, but to deliver to the sun another payload; hopefully this time successfully. So we find our intrepid solarnaughts already on route to the object which provides our planet with it's source of life. It's a group made of the highest intellects, the best commanding officers, the most able of people to make sure the rest of humanity survive. They too are about to enter The Dead Zone, briefly sending last messages back home, sitting back to take in the view as Mercury swings by in front of our dying star. It's a joyous sight, spirits are high and there's a sense of confidence in the whole mission. Then a signal is received; a signal from the earlier, ill-fated, Icarus I.
Even if the basic plot is a little ludicrous (and let's face it which ones aren't to some degree) for two thirds of the movie Danny Boyle produces a worthwhile sci-fi jaunt where we see the crew determined and eager to complete their mission. Obviously there's some tensions on board, but then of course there would be for people cooped up with each other for an extended period of time in a confined space. Boyle and his production crew researched what would be required of a craft to complete this mission and had word back from NASA that space would be needed for individuals. Packet food although useful would take a back seat to organically grown produce. 'Family' areas have to be supplied (here in the form of a communal kitchen) to give the travellers a sense of belonging, a home from home. So Boyle's certainly started off on the right foot. The technology he introduces us to is obviously ahead of our current limit but not that far ahead that we don't understand its form or use. So again Boyle has created an atmosphere that the viewer is comfortable with, can relate to and totally accepts.
The story itself is engaging enough with beautiful shots of the exterior of the ship and surrounding solar system producing some stunning looking visuals and definitely giving the viewer the sense that this craft really is on its way to the heart of our sun. There's enough drama, from battling crew members and the occasional exterior accident to keep the plot kicking along; the inclusion of the signal from the first Icarus flight adding tension into the mix. Should the crew deviate from their current course by only a few miles to see if there are any survivors, to add that additional nuclear device to their own payload? At this juncture the film switches focus a little and the addition of the earlier mission is a welcome one, padding out the story somewhat, giving the viewer something else to think about.
It is after this section though, when the crew finally meet up with the earlier enterprise that things, both for the crew, and for this reviewer go sadly wrong. What started out as a somewhat meaningful film, shot at a leisurely pace when needed giving the viewer time to contemplate their own place in the solar system and where our good fortune comes from, now turns into a run of the mill, pick it up of the shelf hack and slash affair and it's one of the biggest let downs I've had for some time. I just couldn't for the life of me understand why Boyle took this particular tack; what we have left with is something in-between Solaris and Event Horizon, both enjoyable films in their own right but not when put together as they're almost diametrically opposed to one other. Alas that is what I found with the last third of Sunshine, for me it just lost it's way; almost like Boyle really didn't know how to end his own epic and decide that the kids back home would love this angle on it. I could have accepted remaining crew members going mad because they've spent 7 years on their own exposed to continual blinding light and this in itself might have presented some interesting angles, but I just couldn't and still can't resolve what was finally put on screen.
Of the ensemble cast a few actors stand out. Cillian Murphy, previously seen in Batman Begins and altogether superb in the emotionally charged The Wind that Shakes the Barley, is an actor worthy of note and one who I for one will always try to keep an eye on. He puts in another sterling performance here as the physicist along for the ride; his only purpose is ultimately to drop the bomb. Fantastic Four's Johnny Storm, Chris Evans, shows that he's worth more than one liners and a teasing smile. Here he's a commanding presence often sacrificing his colleagues for the greater good of the mission. Like his colleagues you question this, but ultimately you know he's right... the fate of 7 billion surely more important than their own lives, and they know it. Supporting cast members fill their roles well enough, although Trey's character (Benedict Wong) does get a little grating after a while.
On the whole Sunshine is a glorious film to watch, the technology in use, the external shots of the Icarus will delight any sci-fi fans out there, serious ones from the 2001 camp or otherwise. The action's good enough on route to their goal but for me the ending was out of place and even after a couple of watches (and a watch of the Boyle commentary) it still doesn't gel for me. The characters are well rounded, likeable and fit well into the grand scheme of things brought to life with acting that'll never have you groaning. The final section though... well I certainly wish Boyle had thought it out little more, wished he had just not copped out with a run of the mill hack, slash, run, hide affair; it let the whole film down for me - up till then though I was in my element.