Thursday 20 September 2007

Sunshine (2007)

Thursday 20 September 2007
Director: Danny Boyle
Writer: Alex Garland

Cast: Cillian Murphy (Robert Cappa), Rose Byrne (Cassie), Michelle Yeoh (Corazon), Chris Evans (Mace), Cliff Curtis (Searle), Troy Garity (Harvey), Hiroyuki Sanada (Kaneda), Benedict Wong (Trey) & Mark Strong (Pinbacker)

In the year 2057, astronauts travel to our dying sun, to regenerate it with a payload of explosives...

Danny Boyle doesn't get enough respect in the filmmaking world. This is the man who reinvigorated British cinema with Trainspotting (1996), kickstarted the "zombie" craze with 28 Days Later (2002), and now tries his luck with science fiction...

Sunshine drops us in 2025 A.D, a time of looming apocalypse because the sun is dying. Only an eclectic group of astronauts aboard the Icarus II can prevent mankind's extinction, by regenerating our nearest star with the sum total of Earth's fissionable material. The celestial equivalent of a defibrillator.

Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later) stars as physicist Robert Cappa, in an ensemble cast that includes plucky pilot Cassie (Rose Byrne), caring biologist Corazon (Michelle Yeoh), highly-strung engineer Mace (Chris Evans), physician Searle (Cliff Curtis), comms officer Harvey (Troy Garity), navigator Trey (Benedict Wong) and captain Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada).

The actors are all very believable in their roles, delivering a plausible team dynamic of American/Chinese professionals who have been cooped up together for months on end. Director Danny Boyle insisted the actors bonded for real, presenting them with various team-building activities 16 months before filming, and the results have clearly paid off.

The crew are the white-collar equivalent of the rag-tag Alien cast, sharing a similar vibe before their problems escalate and the fate of Earth hangs in the balance. As you'd expect, the intensity of this crucial mission makes for great drama, as cabin fever sparks petty squabbles and mission-threatening mistakes.

Chris Evans (Fantastic Four) shows real star-power as Mace, butting heads with androgynous Murphy, while Michelle Yeoh and Rose Byrne both play women of cool, collected depth. There isn't a duff note amongst the cast, while the film's spiritual side proves genuinely moving at times, particularly when some of the crew wonder if their mission is to "touch God", the bringer of light...

For its first hour, Sunshine is an irresistible mix of engaging science, involving characters, tense action, succinct plotting, smooth direction and gorgeous visuals. For a relatively cheap production, every penny of the budget is up on screen and the effects are consistent and beautiful. The burning sun becomes a character itself (helped by a great hissing sound design), while the Icarus II (sperm-shaped and heading toward its "egg") is expertly realized.

Sadly, things become to crumble in the last half, as Sunshine takes a tonally-awkward shift into the supernatural. It's disappointing that writer Alex Gardland (The Beach) cripples his story by adding a "monster", as the cultivated seriousness and derring-do gives way to hokum. Boyle does his best to keep things vague -- blurring everything to give dreamy uncertainty to this misguided development -- but he can't disguise a bad idea.

What's most frustrating is the story could easily have survived without the supernatural lurch, had one of its crew simply gone cuckoo. Instead, we have Jason Vorhees turning up in the middle of 2001: A Space Odyssey! Sunshine is damaged irrecoverably by this development, although Boyle manages an effective conclusion and denouement -- by keeping the villain an allegorical smear, instead of an outright impossibility.

Audiences who are more interested in humanity and spirituality over a flesh-scorched boogieman, will be gnashing their teeth... as a thought-provoking marvel with Kubrick and Tarkovsky as its heavenly guides, suckles at the teat of Paul W.S Anderson for its final reels...

The future's bright... but quickly dims.

Fox Searchlight Pictures
Budget: £20 million
107 minutes