| The Red Right Hand
Fifty years from now our Sun is dying. The human race sent a crew of eight to space, with the intention of detonating a nuclear device in the centre of the Sun, creating a controlled 'big bang.' The first attempt was lost without contact and presumed a failure for whatever reason. Seven years later, with all the Earth's resources mined, a second ship was created. Captained by Kaneda [Sanada], the Icarus II is housing our planets' finest; Communications Officer, Harvey [Troy Garity]; Pilot, Cassie [Byrne]; Psychologist, Searle [Curtis]; Navigator, Trey [Wong]; Biologist, Corazon [Yeoh]; Engineer, Mace [Evans] and prodigy physicist, Capa [Murphy]. Danny Boyle's latest cinematic offering is one that launches the audience straight into the third, climactic act of a larger story. There's no question of what the human race can do or who should be selected to undertake such a mission; these scenes have already passed. What we see is the awakening from a deep, sixteen month sleep and the final leg of a long journey to save humanity. As much as this is a story of distance, it's also a Conrad-styled, Heart Of Darkness-esque take of psychological discovery, paranoia and the division between loyalty and duty. The 70's gave rise to the Apollo/Sputnik realism of space travel but ushered in a very pessimistic view of exploration, borne of political strife between muscle-flexing world powers, as opposed to alien life-forms entering our atmosphere in saucer-like crafts, with the intention of enslaving mankind – dun dun duuun! Films such as Solyaris, Alien, Dark Star and 2001 are blue-prints for the slow-travelling, doomed space voyage genre, which has been absent from our screen for some time. In 1997, a quasi-similar film came out that tried to combine lost paranoia with big budget scares. Event Horizon is something that not everyone remembers (nor particularly wants to) but I rather enjoyed it; yes, I know it's a Hellraiser meets The Shining in space, mismatch, but I don't care. Unfortunately, as great as Sunshine is, it does tend to pinch and steal as much as it can from all of these features.
As the crew awaken, they find themselves entering the dead-zone a little earlier than initially expected and prepare to send their last messages home before entering a radio blackout. The journey so-far has clearly taken quite a toll on the crew, as signs of fatigue and contempt are beginning to shine through. The atmosphere is tense but still focused as their goal remains clear and so exceedingly important. In order to increase speed without burning fuel, a planned sling-shot around Mercury is initiated. Due to the iron content of Mercury's surface, a distress beacon is amplified and picked up; it would appear to be the Icarus I. The crew sit down and as scientists, rationally discuss the expendability of the possible lives of the crew of the Icarus I. It is, however, agreed that two bombs (essentially, two last chances) are better than one. A vote is out of the question as it's not a decision to be made by a majority, instead it's up to our world's smartest mind to calculate the risk and logic of the proposition; I.e. Capa. After much deliberation, he decides that it is an acceptable risk and Trey starts to recalculate the trajectory. This decision affects the mission and the mentality of the crew; accidents happen, lives are lost, blame is placed and a return to Earth now seems out of the question.
For a film with such a low budget, Sunshine looks beautiful. The Sun itself is a star (mmm, delicious cheap pun) in its own rite, impressing the audience with every single shot. The mental breakdown and exploration of the crew is an extremely entertaining and well-acted one. Each character, bar a slightly underused Garity, is both pleasant and rewarding. The two highlights, though, are the ever-talented young Mr. Murphy, displaying the burdens of the world's greatest mind and the pressures and ego-trips that must accompany such a title and, somewhat surprisingly, Evans as the straight-talking, no nonsense engineer. These two actors have displayed great potential (even Evans' Human Torch in Fantastic Four - probably because it's the only thing that saves that crappy movie) across their short careers and really get a chance to step out of their supporting roles and demonstrate their capabilities as fully-ranged thespians. There are, however, faults and they are large enough to ruin a lot of punters' opinions of this film. First of all, fifty years or not, man is incapable of creating an object that could withstand the temperatures within a couple of hundred thousand miles of the sun, let alone the centre. The third act of this film, the maddening conclusion, is a little bit warped, edging away from paranoia and stepping into full-blown psychosis. The logic behind the nature of the gravity/space/time chaos created by the core is something that some may neither understand nor fully process. This may sound insulting but the end made sense to me; it won't make sense to most. They simply won't get it - no offence. Other than that, Sunshine is an extremely intelligent and challenging piece that will stand as a loyal homage to a lost sub-genre of S/F, destined to annoy and entertain millions of science fiction fanatics. Rip-off or reboot? You decide.
UK - 6th April 2007
US - 14th September 2007
The Scene To Look Out For:
The odd, ironic placement did make me laugh a little - naming the ship Icarus and the possibility of freezing to death on a journey to the Sun being the two most rewarding - but the most memorable moment was probably the Icarus computer refusing to answer Cassie's command. Due to a poorly calculated path, four of the panels of the large heat deflector become damaged and require manual repair. As Kaneda and Capa are sent out, Cassie realigns the ship to give them as much shadow as possible. The computer explains that communication towers 3&4 will be damaged beyond repair but she considers it a reasonable risk with the dead-zone blackout still in effect. As the rotating aerial continues on its course, it reignites and reflects a beam of light, setting an important element of the ship ablaze. The computer, calculating the jeopardy that the rest of the crew are now in, proceeds to turn the ship back, exposing the two crew members outside. It's an important scene, combining fantastic direction and beautiful cinematography and the first of many problems that hinder the mission but most importantly it gives each crew member a chance to show off their personal traits that will later overwhelm and consume them, for better or worse.
**This may be considered a spoiler and could ruin the film for many, so feel free to skip this part if necessary**
Captain Pinbacker (homage to Dark Star's Sgt. Pinback) is the only survivor of the first Icarus mission and a man who has spent a little too much time staring at the Sun. Seven years alone, doing push-ups in front of the burning orb, has lead him to believe that extinction is the will of God and man has no right to interfere with fate, destiny and the hand of God. The role is very much Sam Neill in Event Horizon and as this film is rated 15 instead of an 18, he is mostly pictured out of focus (to avoid showing his charred, scarred flesh), but Mark Strong's performance is one that really (I refuse to say 'shines through') grips the audience. If you don't know who Strong is, I wouldn't be surprised. I first saw him in Sharpe's Mission in 1996 and most recently in Syriana and Tristan + Isolde. He was also my highlighted character in Revolver and I have a firm belief that he is one of those talented individuals that is overlooked far too much.
"All our hopes, our... our dreams are foolish. In the face of this we are dust, nothing more. Unto this dust we return. When He chooses for us to die, it is not our place to challenge God"
In A Few Words:
"Despite the setting, this is not a story for physicists, it's for psychologists and if you enter the cinema with an open mind, this is a film that will provide an entertaining and rewarding source for thought and debate"