“It’s people. Soylent Green is made out of people. They’re making our food out of people. Next thing they’ll be breeding us like cattle for food. You’ve gotta tell them. You’ve gotta tell them!” — Detective Robert Thorn from Soylent Green
“They don’t know what they’ve got there.” — Dr. Indiana Jones from Raiders of the Lost Ark
“Look how they massacred my boy. ” — Don Vito Corleone from The Godfather
I go in with the highest of hopes and sometimes I come out in ruins. The promise of suburban bliss slashed by studio MBA greed mixed with misunderstood Louis B. Mayer wisdom. For Danny Boyle‘s Sunshine, I am not going down like that. Not in this lifetime, no way. Children of Men and The Fountain got lost in the shuffle. I championed those films very hard. True, they left a lasting an impact on me. Films not for everyone, but I felt like they were for me. Let me say this, if Danny Boyle and Alex Garland want to continue exploring the science fiction genre, they have my blessing. Like Darren Aronofsky, I would gladly see to it they would always get the financing for their visions.
Sunshine is not perfect and I love that it is not neat or tidy. I love that third act is a visual assault. The third act will require many later viewings on DVD and the film earns that honor as soon as I left the theater. Alwin H. Kuchler makes space look like that most haunting, cold, and distant place of my dreams. It looks like millions of light years of bad road. A mission to jumpstart our dying Sun in the near future is turned into a 108 minute whirlwind of emotion, adrenaline, and hope. Yes, the film is about hope when all is said and done. That is its common link to Brian De Palma’s Mission to Mars if any, the film is about hope. The reviews for this film have been mixed and downright nasty toward the film’s director, Danny Boyle. Boyle has done an impressive job of playing in genres. When he worked with Alex Garland on 28 Days Later, it was very fresh. It gave us Cillian Murphy and it reinstilled fear where only apathy had been holding court for too many years. It was a zombie film hated by many hardcore horror fans, but I embraced it because the sting of films like Ghost Ship, The Haunting remake, and whatever other trash was out there had screwed with my mind long enough.
I have a confession to make. I was very disappointed in Boyle’s adaptation of Alex Garland’s The Beach. It was a letdown to me just as The Phantom Menace was a letdown for many Star Wars fans. I do not think if even Ewan McGregor did play Richard that it would have helped the film in the long run. The book, well the book was my book. As soon as it was put on display at Borders, I picked up a copy and fell in love with all of it. Garland’s later books The Tesseract and The Coma would not be able to command the intensity of his first book. It is one of those books that you allow to swallow you and hope that you take it up on its promise of what exists outside the walls of your existence. Even the great John Hodge, who did wonders bringing Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting to life, could not find the right way to bring Garland’s words to life. The Hodge/Boyle team remains one of my favorites, even if A Life Less Ordinary was not all that extraordinary. Still, Ewan McGregor looked so much like a young Malcolm McDowell in that film, it was really freaky. Even the beautiful Millions could not prepare me for the film I saw today. Boyle deserves praise for playing around in so many different genres. And yes, I do look forward to Porno, the sequel to Trainspotting, coming soon from the same team of players.
Sunshine is a throwback to the great science fiction films of the 1960s and 1970s. The film pays homage to some recent ones, too. There are shades of Silent Running, Alien, Meteor, Outland, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2010, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce, Mission to Mars, and Event Horizon. This is not a bad thing and may only be bad because these are the images that come to mind while watching a film of this scale in the theater. My memory is full of these films and I keep going back to them whenever I can. It helps to have filmmakers like Boyle, Aronofsky, and Cuaron keeping the flames burning for many generations to come.
Fifty years into the future and our Sun is dying. As a result, the Earth is dying. Mankind faces extinction. Icarus II has been sent to re-ignite the Sun with “the payload.” Icarus I did not make it. A team of astronauts is sent into space to detonate a huge energetic bomb into the Sun to jumpstart our beautiful star. The space mission plays like a man on a mission film like The Dirty Dozen, Kelly’s Heroes, or its older bigger budget brothers, Armageddon and Deep Impact. Sunshine does share some of the suicidal mission aspects of the two 1998 asteroids films, but is a lot smarter in many ways. At times, Sunshine plays like the smart hard science fiction of Arthur C. Clarke, David Brin, Gregory Benford, and Greg Bear, just to name a few authors I like and admire. Those authors always made me wish I knew my sciences better. They made it look like so much fun.
The film works and one of the major reasons for that is its great cast. Cillian Murphy seems to be on a role since 28 Days Later. The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Breakfast on Pluto are the surest signs that a major talent walks among us. As Capa, he is the man with the plan. He is the big deal because he is the only one who can detonate the “payload.” It is always a pleasure to see Michelle Yeoh in a film. As Corazon, she illuminates every scene. Cliff Curtis continues to be one of the strongest supporting actors out there. Add his role as Kaneda with his roles in Fracture, The Fountain, and Live Free Or Die Hard. He is quickly becoming the go-to guy for keeping films fresh and interesting. Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, Troy Garity, Benedict Wong, Mark Strong, and Hiroyuki Sanada round out the rest of the cast.
I feel each actor brings the most to their roles to give the audience the sense of urgency that hovers over all of them and their ultimate mission of making sure humanity has another chance to get it right. Capa is not kidding when he tells his family back on Earth through a message: “So if you wake up one morning and it’s a particularly beautiful day, you’ll know we made it.”
Capa’s words haunted me throughout the film because everything that could go wrong does go wrong. It is every worst-case scenario in the book. The failure of Icarus I is the elephant in the room. Just maybe once, when these mortals reach for the Sun, something good will happen in return. With Sunshine, Danny Boyle continues a great tradition of meaningful and intelligent science fiction filmmaking. If I did not know any better, I’d feel like I was watching a film made in 1972. For me, it felt like a dip into the golden age where the shadows on the wall never betray us.