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Saturday, April 21, 2007

The first two thirds of Danny Boyle's 'Sunshine' are quite great. Last third, hmm.

A screenshot from Sunshine

Sunshine, the newest film by Danny Boyle (director of Trainspotting, The Beach, 28 Days Later etc.) and written by Alex Garland, is a sci-fi film unlike most others you usually see in cinemas. Belonging more to the 'hard' sci-fi subgenre (2001, Solaris etc.) than Cyberpunk (Blade Runner, Minority Report, Matrix, DEMOLITION MAN!) or Space Opera (Star Wars, Star Trek, The Fifth Element), this film, while visually spectacular, relies more on character development and slow-burning tension than cheap explosions.

It's kinda like a better version of EVENT HORIZON. And I'm seriously risking my credibility for saying this, but for reasons I cannot comprehend, the horrible 1998 sci-fi movie, LOST IN SPACE, reemerged from the deepest recesses of my mind while I was watching SUNSHINE, maybe because it was also about a group of people learning to live with each other in outer space. I also thought of SUPERNOVA, this excruciating film starring Angela Bassett and James Spader and directed by Walter Hill (under the Alan Smithee designation, Thomas Lee) that I blocked from my memory as well, because it's also about a few people trapped in this spaceship, and then having horrible stuff happen to them. I have no idea why SUNSHINE could stir so much memories of other horrible sci-fi films I have seen in the past, it's almost disturbing.

50 years in the future, the Sun is dying, which means that Earth is screwed as well. The spaceship, Icarus 2, featuring a multi-ethnic crew, is charged with the mission of delivering this really large bomb to the Sun, hoping to re-ignite it with this massive explosion. Tensions are high as they reach the Dead Zone, where they are unable to communicate with Earth anymore.

And then, they receive the distress beacon from Icarus 1, a similar ship sent on a same mission seven years ago, before all contact was lost. They have to make a choice in whether to

Capa (Cillian Murphy!!), the physicist who designed the bomb, sends a video message to his family, saying manfully: "If you wake up one morning and it's a particularly beautiful day... you'll know we made it."

Cillian Murphy in SunshineIn Malaysia, advertisements and promotions made it seem as if this film is headlined by Michelle Yeoh, but she's really just part of the ensemble cast (although Cillian Murphy's Capa is really the 'hero character' in this), however, I actually liked her performance here. After skipping her last few movies (including Memoirs of Geisha), I feel that seeing her in a non-Kung Fu and somewhat dramatic role was a refreshing experience. I'll rather see her start flexing her acting muscles and play an everyday woman (KINDA like her character Corazon here, oh, cool name, by the way).

The rest of the Icarus 2 crew includes Captain Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada, the coolest Japanese actor in the world!), second-in-command Harvey (Troy Garity) psychologist Searle (Cliff Curtis, the modernized dad in WHALE RIDER), engineer Mace (Chris Evans, Human Torch in FANTASTIC FOUR, voice of Casey Jones in TMNT), mathematician Trey (Benedict Wong) and pilot Cassie (Rose Byrne).

There are many things that amaze me about SUNSHINE, the visuals, especially. Special effects, of the Sun from up close, are really amazing. The claustrophobic extreme close-ups when Kaneda and Capa are in their gold-coloured astronaut suits. Images from the film are so vivid that they tend to cover the shortcomings of the simple plot and characterization (the characters aren't caricatures, but they aren't that original either, good thing performances from the cast are uniformly good). Like most reviews, I agree that the last third of the movie, where the film shifts from a taut slow-burning character drama/thriller to the survival horror genre. As much as I appreciate the fact that the filmmakers aren't conforming to usual film conventions, choosing to mix and mesh different genres, the last third, which touches upon certain philosophical and religious issues about Man's relationship with nature (to alter it? Or to accept and become one with it?) feels tacked-on and unconvincing.

It's really more an arthouse fare than a popcorn blockbuster. I saw this with my dad, dad thinks the film is ultimately ruined by the last third, perhaps it is, but I'm still going to recommend this (as long as you KNOW this is really an art film) purely because of the visuals, and the cool film score (by John Murphy and Underworld). Like Stanley Kubrick had said, he wanted his films to be an experience, more than just watching a story, or seeing big-name stars oncreen. Thus to me, SUNSHINE is a unique enough experience to prevent me from calling it a major disappointment.

I'm interested to see what others have to say about this film.

Sunshine trailer