Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Review: Sunshine

Sunshine - Danny BoyleWatch the trailer

Although this might not end up being the best film I see this year (a spot in my top 10 is probably guaranteed at the least), it’d certainly end up as one of my favourites. Sunshine is a sumptious cinematic feast, and for sci-fi fans especially, this is something to be lapped up - although non-SF fans would enjoy it too.

The premise is simple: The sun is dying, and if it expires, so will the entire human race. Thus it must be revived, and the only way it can do so, at least in theory, is to detonate a massive bomb into it and hope for the best. A similar mission had done so, 7 years earlier, but was lost. Now Icarus 2 (yes, tactless I know) is sent out as Earth’s last hope.

Star Trek or Armageddon this ain't, though, but is instead closer in spirit to 2001: A Space Odyssey or Solaris. Don't worry, it's far more accessible than either of those two. We’re thrown in media res straight on board the spaceship, and will have to slowly learn about, and in the process, learn to care about our rather diverse set of characters from there. We discover that the crew has just located the missing spaceship, and will have to divert course should they choose to go and investigate. Here we get the first of many dilemmas that are presented in the film, of the consequences of choices and the agony of second-guessing.

Make no mistake, although there is a strong cast (familiar, although not quite household names, including our very own Michelle Yeoh), this is very much a director’s film. Danny Boyle is very keen on amplifying the claustrophobia of the spaceship, the tensions emanating from living in such close quarters, the intricacies of relationships, the inevitability of taking risks, the burden of having to take on the responsibility of humankind’s last hope (and a tentative hope at best). It's, as it often is with the best sci-fi, not so much about the science but about the human side. And the cinematography is just stunning, simply stunning. What a spectacle! This is one of those films that deserves to be watched on the big screen. You could very much make the case for the sun being the star of the film, and space itself takes on a viscerally haunting, beautiful quality; the vastness of it all also conveying a sense of loneliness.

This isn’t an overly introspective movie nonetheless, and thrills and spills are never far away. As I’ve mentioned earlier, decisions have consequences, while at the same time there is also a sense where you feel as if things are out of the crew's hands. This is especially true of the third act of the film; reviewers are united in their opinion here that this is the point where the movie lets you down. Be prepared for a wild ride, and a “Huh? What just happened?” moment. While it’s indisputable that the climax of the film isn’t truly satisfying, yet its chaotic nature seems to me in tune with the rest of the film. (You might disagree, many feel that it brings the whole film down one notch).

[Spoiler ahead - speculations about the ending]
The friend I’ve watched it with had an intriguing suggestion on how to make sense of the final third of the film, which I think is quite plausible. Basically, he thinks that it is reminiscent of an Asimov short story, Starchild(?). Whether Boyle meant to allude to this or not doesn't make a difference. In short, the closer one gets to the sun, the more compressed space-time is, until one gets to a point where the point of distinction appears. This accounts for the whirlwind direction, the nonlinear sequence, and why it seems as if people can be in 2 places at once. Reality becomes blurred, and the psychological stress should be intolerable. I don’t understand physics, but I’m happy to accept this interpretation!
[End spoiler]

One final note: the soundtrack is great, although not terribly original. It’s one of those majestic, operatic pianoish types designed to manipulate your sensory organs. I didn’t mind it one bit.

So do go see it, and I urge you to forgive its flaws, especially its ending, since a lot of it is no doubt visually dazzling, intelligible, thought-provoking, hopeful, and yes, fun.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

We thought it was a terrible disjointed mess. We cared nothing for the undeveloped characters, and the disjointed camerawork was incredibly irritating. Then came the idiotic decisions and gaps in the plot-- for instance, your supremely intelligent computer can't tell you when you're about to incinerate half the ship or when the ship is actually on fire? (And how did their "uninvited guest" get on board?) Practically unwatchable; redeemed only by the music. Avoid.

2:36 pm  
Blogger BK said...

Ah well, to each his own. :)

Let me offer some further thoughts. I think if we understand that Boyle had made a conscious decision to throw us straight into a third act (in other words, we join them as they're about to approach the sun, rather than starting further back in the story on Earth), the work he and Alex Garland did on the characters was decent, backed up by strong performances. Chris Evans got lots of plaundits but I was impressed with the females in particular.

I'm more than happy to concede your point about plot - it's a matter of expectations here. For me, you can always nitpick about plot points; as long as the big picture makes sense and the plot gaps aren't distracting or just plain awful it's fine. You could say the climax fails on this point.

Thanks for expressing your opinion though; never had a strong reaction to a written review before!

3:46 pm  

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