Thursday 5 June 2008

Sunshine (2007)

There's a lot of sunloving going on in that room.

The premise of Sunshine held so much promise: a trendy, quasi-philosophical sci-fi story about humanity's last-ditch effort to save a dying sun. Yeah! That's right up our alley!

And the beginning of Sunshine seemed to deliver on the promise, with super-clever visuals by director Danny Boyle (who also did the super-clever Trainspotting and the super-gross 28 Days Later). We were quite pleased with the aesthetic overall: a sort of saturated, stylized, cyberpunkish Blade Runner-influenced look, with a pulsing, atmospheric background score that reminds one, funnily enough, of the Texas band Explosions in the Sky.

You like this shot? How about a million more!

Would you like it from the side, perhaps?

Unfortunately, what began promisingly enough soon degenerates into a sort of sequel to Event Horizon; where awe-inspiring sci-fi fun is traded in for cheap horror and gratuitous violence, where the potential for philosophical probing is traded in for nonsensical, grandiose statements about Talking to God. What? Oh dear.

We really wanted to tag this review with "transcendental aesthetics" - since this genre has supplied us with so many a sublime experience - and yet, by the end of this film, we were left sitting a bit nauseous, a bit annoyed, and certainly frustrated.

The plot: Somewhere in the not-too-distant future (yeah, yeah, liking it so far), the sun is dying for an unspecified reason (yeah, yeah). A group of 8 supernauts are sent on a last-ditch mission to save the sun. Their task: to fly to the sun and fire a huge, Manhattan-sized bomb into it. This will presumably provoke a mini-star birth, and all shall be well. The (motley) crew is made up of your usual stereotypes: there is the thoughtful, intelligent hero (Cillian Murphy, looking lovely in that androgynous way of his), the super-stoic captain (Hiroyuki Sanada), the macho mechanic/pilot/Han Solo stand-in (Chris Evans), the delicate waif (Rose Byrne), the tough maternal type (Michelle Yeoh), the nervy guy waiting to have a nervous meltdown (Troy Garity), and the... other nervy guy on the way to a meltdown (Benedict Wong). Oh yeah! And there was also the sensitive, quasi-philosophical, quasi-weird and very interesting psychologist (Cliff Curtis). We loved that guy! And we recognized him from, of all places, 10,000 BC - that torturous torture from last year. He was Tic'Tic! Yeah, Tic'Tic!

The crew, deciding who to eat first.

Anyway, things start out interestingly enough. There are the usual rumblings of disagreement onboard, and everyone seems to have gone a bit stir crazy. There's lots of shots of eyes, irises, and the burning sun, in all its golden, fiery fury. By comparison, Earth (which we see only once, in the end) is described as being a frozen wasteland. Life depends on the sun, and these characters clearly don't get much of it and are somewhat reverential towards it. For example, in our favorite aspect of the plot, Doctor Tic'Tic seems to have developed a weird sun fetish, where he sits in the observation room and scalds himself by observing the super-close sun at 3.1% visibility. Cool! Anyway, we constantly get the vibe that the sun is something awe-inspiring and powerful and dangerous... perhaps, like scientific progress?

Hmm, borrowing from Blade Runner's eye thing.

But then, alas, the usual problems start occurring. The ships break down, psyches break down, life systems break down (yes, a minority dies first). They meet up with the previous mission to the sun, and we have the usual eerie sequence of deciphering how, exactly, the previous ship crew died. And then... has anyone seen the end of Event Horizon? Well, if you enjoyed Sam Neill as the Piece of Toast from Hell, that character gets a reprise at the end of Sunshine.

Cillian Murphy and his pretty blue eyes.

We think the major problem we had with this film was the needless and 100% gratuitous violence. We are not, usually, delicate types. We don't have a problem with violence in film, per se. For example, A History of Violence, The Proposition and Old Boy are all three incredibly violent films that we enjoyed. We would also argue, for all three films, that the violence (and the shocking level of it) was, in some ways, necessary for the films' aesthetic goals. Because we think sometimes scariness and violence depicted in art can be useful - you wouldn't want to tone down Francis Bacon's wonderfully horrific Study After Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X, would you?

Check out those baroque spacesuits! Reminds us of the baroque interiors in Dune.

However, the violence in Sunshine serves no purpose. It's just another perverse attempt by a Hollywood film to out-gross other, similar Hollywood films. Boyle's camera dwells ghoulishly on glassy eyes, burnt corpses, bloody handprints. For example, there's one scene which we thought was just over-the-top terrible: enter Nervy Guy. Nervy Guy, like many a nervy guy before him, was clearly on the way to a gruesome death. At one point, Han Solo, our Thoughtful Hero and Nervy Guy are about to risk their lives and jump through the vacuum of space for about 30 seconds. It is already abundantly clear that Nervy Guy will not make it, because he was (1) frightened of dying and (2) mean and cowardly to the heroes. Indeed, Nervy Guy accidentally loses his grip on the other two during their jump, and he goes sailing off into space. This, we think, is sufficient already to horrify the audience. Instead, the camera follows him - and keeps cutting back to him, even as the action is moving back into the ship - so that we then have to sit through all the awful ways ways in which he is tossed about by exploding fireballs from the sun and the freezing vacuum of space.

Ughhh. The PPCC was just gagging at this point. Spare us, Danny Boyle, please!

Anyway, since the film is just a gross-out, superficial version of many other, better sci-fi films - 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dune, Blade Runner, Mission to Mars, Solaris... - you would probably do better to just watch one of those. Unless you have a thing for Cillian Murphy. Or Tic'Tic.


ajnabi said...

I do have a thing for Cillian Murphy. But I have a feeling even Shashi couldn't have saved this movie.

the PPCC is a big fat idiot said...

Thankfully, while Shashi's been in some stinkers (Atithee, I'm looking at you), I don't think he was ever in anything so needlessly gruesome.

Cillian, though - lovely! I so regret not buying Breakfast on Pluto when I saw it in the discount bin at Blockbuster's. Cillian Murphy in drag AND Stephen Rea?! Fabulous!

brat said...

I love the movie for it's few amazing scenes which didn't get much of a mention on the review above, most noteably the mercury passing [youtube link:]. The cinematic brilliance of this scene left me in awe. What makes this movie more interesting is the fact that Brian Cox was involved in the little minute details about making it more realistic.My personal favorite is the ending scene of the movie in which Murphy says quite philosophically: " And if you wake up one morning and it's a particularly beautiful day, you'll know we made it"

Shairlyn said...

I confess I watched it for Cillian Murphy, and he was wonderful, although making him speak with an American accent was criminal.

Yeah, cinematics were great, the ship and the technology were fantastic, I liked the premise, but it could so badly have done without the crispy-fried zombie bad guy and all the blood.

Oh and the de-gloving when Mr Zombie is trying to strangle Cillian (that's the technical term for when you skin peels off like that, it happens in industrial accidents sometimes) was just gross for the sake of being gross. Ew.

Way to spoil what was otherwise a wonderful movie with so much potential. At least it had Cillian.