Sunday, 15 April 2007

Danny Boyle's Sunshine

Watching Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, I realised that I hadn’t watched a new sci-fi film in a long time. Maybe the genre just does not appeal to me. But that can’t be true as I am an avid fan of films such as Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris. Popcorn movies such as Armageddon don’t pose any deep or philosophical questions (and neither should they have to) and in that sense, they do not appeal to me.

It’s such a vast universe, a universe that has the might to quieten, to frighten and to awe the human spirit. A sci-fi film set in space could at least acknowledge the beauty and the horror of being away from earth.

Sunshine, therefore, is a ray of sunshine. And no it is not about love, money or even the moon… It is about the sun (I think you’ll agree that this is not a character featured in many films). Set somewhere 50 years into the future, a team of astronauts are sent to restart the dying sun by throwing a bomb into it. An extremely high-risk task considering that the last batch of astronauts did not survive on the very same mission. The team of eight members (with Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans and Rose Byrne in the strongest roles) struggle to cope with the psychological aspect of isolation as well as the dangerously decreasing levels of oxygen.

I’ve already mentioned Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris and Boyle gives a gentle nod to all these films. He did say in an interview that it was hard trying to match up to the standard of these filmic landmarks set in space. He may not entirely succeed but he does give an impressively good try.

Sunshine creeps up on you without saying anything. The moments of silence reveal so much about the feeling of isolation and panic that such a mission would trigger in a human being. And accompanied by the silence, each sound effect becomes a shattering drop in the ocean. The orange-tinted lenses, the blurred shadows and the shaky point-of-view shots add up to provide a claustrophobic atmosphere. The many reflections of the characters in windows and screens are a constantly unwanted reminder to them of what they are and where they are.

The sun is a daunting character and it envelops you in its unforgiving heat. The story begins immediately in space and the sun follows the characters (and you) all the way from the start to the end. I felt as if the spaceship was already trapped into the arms of the sun and that there was no point of return. This feeling is conveyed through the people who slowly begin to lose their humanity. At the end of one scene, there is a shot of Curazon (Michelle Yeoh) sitting on her own after a shattering near-death experience. None of her colleagues make an effort to comfort her. Death is a difficult reality that everyone has to face up to at some point.

It is the third act that really does let you down. As a sort of homage to Alien, an enemy sets out to sabotage the spaceship. Who survives and who dies becomes the main point of focus. The change of pace, from the tense atmosphere of forever waiting to running around the spaceship like maniacs, makes for an uncomfortable leap. The introduction to the twist itself is hazy and could leave some viewers completely confused (as I could see by the reaction of some people in the cinema audience). Thankfully, with a least starry cast, you cannot predict which character will save the day.

And the ludicrous twist doesn’t detract from the film’s powerful ending. There has been a lot of criticism for naming the spaceship Icarus II. Jonathan Ross sarcastically commented on his chat show that it’s not a sensitive name to use in a hypothetical situation like that. And Peter Bradshaw (from the Guardian) also commented that the name is “tactlessly chosen”. My take on it is that it perfectly compliments the mythological undertones in the story. Deep down, every character wants to fly as close as possible to the sun unaware that this fiery planet doesn’t take everyone into its confidence that easily. And the name also symbolises the greedy and needy optimism of the people back on earth who are acting in full belief that they can control the sun.

The cast are wonderfully believable as the people sacrificing years of their lives for what seems like a hopeless mission. Cillian Murphy (who was also in Boyle’s 28 Days Later) stands out with his piercing eyes that are just as striking as the sun. Chris Evans is a pleasant surprise as the calm leader close to breaking point. The rest of the cast provide strong supporting turns. And, considering the low budget, the special effects and the make-up are fantastic.

Whatever its faults, Sunshine is a rich treat worth devouring.


aroop said...

hey nice blog here..wish you could include more pics.. :) ..and yes about Sunshine..i think you missed out to mention a film which its heavily inspires from..its called Event Horizon.. keep watching and keep blogging..cheers

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