Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 1/27/08.
Following the critical success of 2004's family-drama Millions, British director Danny Boyle took another direction with the film as he collaborated with Frank Cottrell Bryce on the project. Though Millions was a more accessible, family-friendly film compared to his other films like the zombie-film 28 Days Later and his 1996 heroin-drama Trainspotting. Boyle proved to himself to take on different projects with great success following the disastrous experience with his 2000 film The Beach. Then in 2007, after more than a year in the works, Boyle explored a different genre in science fiction entitled Sunshine.
Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland, Sunshine tells the story of a futuristic period where the sun is dying. After a crew in space failed to reignite the sun, a new crew takes over as they learn what happen to the previous crew while dealing with their own emotions in a mission they must not fail. Taking cues from Stanley Kubrick's 1968 classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey, Boyle explores the world of alienation and mysticism of the universe as well as mankind's failing. With an ensemble that includes Boyle regular Cillian Murphy along with Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, Michelle Yeoh, Benedict Wong, Hiroyuki Sanada, Cliff Curtis, and Troy Garity. Sunshine is a haunting, visually-hypnotic film from Danny Boyle and company.
It's 2057 as the sun is dying forcing Earth to nearly die as well. Seven years ago, a spaceship called Icarus attempted to reignite the sun with a nuclear missile attached to the ship. Then for some reason, Icarus and its crew never made it as now, a new crew on Icarus II is hoping to complete the mission and save Earth. Leading the team is Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada) with communications officer Harvey (Troy Garity) in second-in-command. Also in the team are a group of scientists, physicists, and an astronaut including pilot Cassie (Rose Byrne), engineer Mace (Chris Evans), navigator Trey (Benedict Wong), psychologist Searle (Cliff Curtis), botanist Corazon (Michelle Yeoh) and physicist/astronaut Robert Capa (Cillian Murphy). Hoping to succeed despite personal tension, the crew of Icarus II are aware that if they fail, Earth will die.
Nearing the planet Mercury, Harvey suddenly hears a signal that turned out to be Icarus as the crew wondered if they should rendevous with the old ship. Capa is forced to make the decision as he ponders what impact it would have since Icarus has another nuclear missile attached. If they can get that second missile, there would be a second shot in reigniting the son in case the one they have doesn't go well. Capa makes his decision as they make way towards Mercury where all of a sudden, a mental error made by Trey on not directing the shields against the sun since he was too busy making calculations on the navigation and such. Kaneda and Capa decide to go outside to inspect the damage and such as Cassie tries to change the navigation. Just as things seem to go well in the repairs, something goes wrong instead as towers and areas get destroyed. With Trey now in a mind full of guilt, Searle sedates him as a suicide risk.
With the ship's plant and garden supply destroyed by the fire and oxygen supply now at a low risk, Corazon realizes that there's four left but four people to survive. Mace and Cassie wonder who should survive as Harvey makes the decision to go to Icarus to see if there's still any oxygen supply left. With Trey, Mace, Harvey, and Capa go onboard Icarus, the rest stays at Icarus II where they discovered what happened to the first Icarus crew but also its captain Pinbacker (Mark Strong) who went insane all of a sudden. Just as they continued to explore, the docking between the two Icarus ships suddenly exploded forcing the men to not return. Cassie directs Icarus II to the nearest docking meter with Icarus as Searle chooses to stay behind in order to get the rest of the team out manually. Though the plan worked for the most part, there are now a few survivors left as Capa's previous decision puts him at odds with Mace. Yet, the mystery of what happened to the docking link remains questioned.
When Capa decides to check on the nuclear payload, he makes a discovery that would impact the ship but his crew as he learned about a force that is trying to stop them as everyone tries to fight to survive in completing their mission.
A film set in space is often filled with themes of alienation and mankind itself. Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland understands these themes as it is explored in the film's first half. Yet, the theme of mankind is explored much further in the second half as the film is about a team trying to reignite the dying sun to save Earth. What Garland does is create a situation in how to stop a team from their mission as what he reveals that man itself is flawed to the point that they would overlook a little thing that would cause problems. The film in some ways is about the fallacy of mankind and how a simple mistake can destroy things where the character of Trey is forced to go on suicide watch.
The pressure on the impact of a mistake can be extremely overwhelming as these eight people aren't just trying to complete their mission but the pressure is overwhelming to them on all parts as they're aware that if they fail. The whole planet of Earth and civilization as they know it will be gone and it's their fault if that happens. It's a continuing frame of mind that crew of Icarus II are going through for the entire film. Yet, by the time the film reaches the third act, it becomes a suspense film of sorts as well as a thriller. In some ways, it becomes a different film and that abrupt shift in tone might irk the audience in some ways as the first two acts is more character-driven.
Director Danny Boyle's vision is truly superb as he creates a unique film that has those great elements of past science-fiction films in the tradition of Stanley Kubrick's 2001 but also Andrei Tarkovsky's film adaptation of Solaris. Creating a feeling of claustrophobia, isolation, and terror, the film has a haunting quality as a large portion of the film is shot from the inside. Boyle's decision on casting is also unique as he brought in an eclectic group of actors for the film with different backgrounds, personalities, and nationalities to convey a sense of international unity despite their own differences. Yet, Boyle's eerie, observant, and hypnotic direction creates an atmosphere that is intense in its emotions. Even as the film goes into suspense mode, the intensity of Boyle's vision doesn't stray from the film's main plot as the third act is also an exploration of sorts of man's failure and its cynicism. It is in some respects a hopeful film as Danny Boyle creates a solid, hypnotic film that gives the director new ground to work on.
Cinematographer Alwin Kuchler does an amazing job in using the sepia-light colors to convey the impact of the dying sun while a lot of the photography and camera work is hand-held in some parts along with tracking shots with the cameras tilted. The look of the camera with its dark, blue-green look works to convey an intimacy and claustrophobia of the film. Visual effects supervisor Tom Wood also helps in the look, particularly the look of the sun as well as the outer-space outside shots that are extremely stunning to look at including the model of Icarus II. Editor Chris Gill does an excellent job in maintaining the intense tone of the film with the use of jump-cuts and transitions to convey the eerie tone of the film as the editing is truly superb.
Production designer Mark Tildesley with set decorator Michelle Day and a team of art directors did a fascinating job in creating the world of Icarus II with its botanic gardens, dream-like fantasy worlds, its claustrophobic space hallways, and the observation room as the film has a wonderful, sci-fi feel. Costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb does nice work on the film's clothing uniforms while the astronaut suits with its gold look and helmet are wonderful to convey the eerie tone of the film as well as the claustrophobia. Sound designer/editor Glenn Freemantle does an amazing job in capturing the film's eerie tone with the breaking of ships and such along with bleeps, and noises to convey the film's haunting quality. The film score by John Murphy and the electronic group Underworld is truly spellbinding with its operatic arrangements, intense electronic accompaniments, and dream-like, ambient tones to convey the layers of emotions the characters are going through.
The film's casting is superb with small performances from Mark Strong as the insane Pinbacker and as the voice of Icarus II, Chipo Chung. The main ensemble of its eight principle actors are all superb with Hiroyuki Sanada in a fantastic role as Captain Kaneda, a man whose leadership and wisdom is needed as he tries to do what is right for everyone while maintaining control. Benedict Wong is excellent as the navigator Trey who starts off as a fun, easy-going man but when his intelligence causes him to overlook something simple, he becomes a wreck as Wong's performance is memorable. Troy Garity is also good as Harvey, the communications officer who tries to take over command only to realize what it takes to be a real leader.
Cliff Curtis is amazing in a standout performance as Dr. Searle, the film's lone optimist and moral conscience of sorts as he is the one who tries to give options while being the one man to keep the peace between everyone. Michelle Yeoh is also superb as the botanist Corazon whose hopes for a better world becomes shattered when her beloved garden is destroyed as she tries to deal with the harsh realities of the world. Chris Evans is a revelation as a hot-headed, frustrated engineer who is dealing with everything that is going on while trying to decide what is morally right. Evans, known to audiences as the Human Torch in the Fantastic 4 films brings a lot of intelligence and energy to his performance as he proves to be a solid actor when working with the right director.
Rose Byrne is wonderfully understated and plaintive as the pilot Cassie, who is some ways, the film's heart. Byrne's performance is subtle and engaging yet is also a conscience in a powerful scene about morality as she truly mesmerizes in every scene she's in. Cillian Murphy is also brilliant as Robert Capa, a man whose decision about Icarus makes him someone who is filled with conflict as he isn't sure about whether he made the right decision. Murphy's dream-like look and wavering sense of hope really carries the film as his performance is truly memorable.
Sunshine is a wonderfully haunting, provocative film from Danny Boyle and company. Fans of intelligent sci-fi films will be amazed in the film's visual presentation as well as Boyle's claustrophobic direction. With a great ensemble cast, an eerie score, and amazing visuals, this is a film that will wow audiences in its visual splendor while comment on the flaws of mankind. While the film isn't as solid as Trainspotting, Danny Boyle still proves to be one of Britain's finest directors. In the end, Sunshine is a fascinating film that deserves to be seen for sci-fi aficionados.
Danny Boyle Films: Shallow Grave - Trainspotting - A Life Less Ordinary - The Beach - 28 Days Later - Millions - Slumdog Millionaire - 127 Hours - Trance - Steve Jobs (2015 film) - T2 Trainspotting - (Yesterday (2019 film)
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