Sunshine Review

The Film

I loved Shallow Grave, it was well written, produced, acted and directed. The team of director Danny Boyle, producer Andrew Macdonald, and writer John Hodge went on to less impressive work like A Life Less Ordinary, and the overblown and useless The Beach, before the writer John Hodge found himself replaced by the novelist Alex Garland for first 28 days Later and now Sunshine. The excellent ensemble writing and verve that had marked Hodge's scripts was replaced by the inexperienced Garland's screen-writing, and this showed in the films. 28 Days Later is a zombie film which aims for Romeroesque heights in allegory but falls apart in the final act, and Sunshine has elements of the same problem of cinematic pinching with a lack of clarity of its own ideas. It borrows from the greats of the science fiction genre in terms of the plot and concept, yet it does not quite excel in its own set-pieces and climax.

Sunshine deals with a time in the future where our Sun is dying and the Earth has become a wintry globe facing annihilation. Seven years earlier, a space craft, Icarus, was sent to drop a bomb into the Sun to re-ignite it, and now with no contact from Icarus, a second vessel has been sent out to do the same. There is no time to send another mission - Icarus 2 can not fail and its crew knows this. Receiving a message from the original Icarus, Icarus 2 diverts to dock with the craft in order to recover its payload and double the chances of the mission's success. Unfortunately, once on board the original craft they meet sabotage and the crew comes under threat. Will the sabotage stop the mission and will the Earth be saved?

With a strong and diverse ensemble cast, Sunshine possesses great elements to help it to succeed. It also has excellent visual design, sympathetic lighting and fine photography. The story borrows from classics like Alien, Solaris and 2001, as well as from the less celebrated Event Horizon, but when it has to grow out of these familiar beginnings it lacks the wit and intelligence of the originals. The film feels cut down and loses the important scene setting of the boredom of space as well as the nature of the camaraderie of the spaceship crew. To have such an interesting ensemble and then not spend time on them seems criminal, and each character is merely defined in terms of plot points rather than their place in the crew. In fact, generally the film lacks many elements of explanation which would make it easier to follow and the characters easier to sympathise with and understand. To make up for this dramatic skimping, Sunshine compensates by loading the screen with CGI which makes the action more visual but fails to acknowledge the human element. It is almost as if the best reason for saving the planet Earth is the beauty of a sunrise rather than the humanity of its occupants.

This criticism to one side, I must say that Sunshine is the best Western science fiction film in ages. Do you want to watch Hiroyuki Sanada being heroic, Michelle Yeoh being the fine actress she is, and the excellent character actor Mark Strong being a desperate loon? I know I do, and all of this in a fine setting which mixes the Nostromo of Alien and the space station of 2001. The budget is clearly not in the league of Michael Bay and his ilk but the judicious use of CGI and the relentless tempo work well. In fact the film could have done with a less speedy early exposition in order to be even better and more satisfying dramatically. Sunshine is superior fare despite Garland's writing and Boyle's decision to cut the film down. Worth your time and your money.