FILM RATING: 5 stars
(Upgraded from 4 to 5 stars on September 29, 2011)
One of the most surprising films I’ve seen in recent years is director Danny Boyle’s excellent sci-fi thriller Sunshine (2007). I accidentally ran across the film hidden on HBO’s late late night schedule over a year ago. Sunshine absolutely blew me away with it’s eye-popping visuals, sophisticated story-telling, and incredible sound. Even more surprising to me is how this film got swept under the rug of public awareness. This movie should have been a summer blockbuster of epic proportions in my opinion. And yet it barely made $3.6 Million here in the U.S. and $32 Million worldwide. What the hell happened?! I’ve read some rather critical reviews of the film and heard some of the filmmakers acknowledge problems with the making of the film. And yet when I watched the film for the first time and had no knowledge of any of that stuff, I walked away absolutely loving the movie! And the few people I know who have also seen it, seem to love it as well. So it seems that this film somehow suffered a studio marketing fallout and was the unnecessary victim of some unusual movie circumstances. Sh*t happens!
The story of Sunshine is pretty simple. A crew of astronauts and scientists in the future is sent to launch a massive nuclear bomb into the sun in order to jumpstart it. The sun has started to die and has cast Earth into a frozen ice age that is killing life on the planet. There was a similar mission sent 7 years earlier that failed. And now this crew of the Icarus II is the last hope for saving Earth from dying due to the lack of sufficient sunshine. The entirety of mankind is at stake, so this sets a heavy, suspenseful, and dramatic tone for the movie…which felt fondly familiar to me from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984).
I’ll acknowledge that sometimes sci-fi movies only appeal to a narrow audience of geeks and young boys, but I found Sunshine to not only appeal to me on that level, but also on a sophisticated spiritual/psychological/visceral level that’s rare in this kind of movie. The ensemble cast led by Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, and Cliff Curtis is phenomenal. The acting is top notch with incredible chemistry between all the characters. It’s rare you get what appears to be such perfect casting for every single character in the film. And yet I never questioned anybody in their roles. Each and every character felt believable and passionate within the film.
While there are some issues with the plot for Sunshine, somehow I’m able to get past them. And this seems like where the movie “failed” in terms of reaching a broader audience. I can see where other people might choose not to like this film because of the plot, specifically one of the twists midway through the story. And yet, while that twist does feel a bit far-fetched, unbelievable, and distracting, the overall story just works so strongly for me in conjunction with the incredible visuals, sound and acting, that I’m able to get past it. Writer Alex Garland needed something (i.e. conflict) to create drama and interest for the film, and while his choice in plot twists didn’t work as well as I would have liked, it still worked in the end for me. I’ve also noticed this is a film that has grown on me since I first saw it. Because the film is operating on multiple levels, much like Inception (2010), I get something new from it each time I watch it. And I begin to understand the challenges both Garland and Boyle had as filmmakers bringing this incredible vision to fruition.
The bottom line is that the production design, cinematography, editing, and sound design for this film are so stunning that they far outweigh any shortcomings in the story. The sets for the interior of the space ship are so futuristically cool and slick that I felt like I was actually in space with the crew. Every little detail is finely crafted and thoroughly designed with a Euro-Asian modern minimalism. As an Architect, I’m completely impressed and jealous! Production Designer Mark Tildesley was clearly the perfect guy for the job. And I have a feeling the look of this film will keep it from feeling too dated like some other sci-fi films have suffered the fate of. The graphics and visual effects on this film are unlike any I’ve ever seen before, other than in the recent revisioning of Star Trek by J.J. Abrams, which I’m sure was inspired in part by this film. Along with some of the most beautiful photography I’ve ever seen in a movie, one could just watch this film with no audio and never be bored simply for the slideshow presentation of incredible images. Just look at the “limited” amount of still images below that I captured just from the trailer, showcasing Director of Photography Alwin Kuchler. You just have to see this film to understand what I’m saying.
Composer John Murphy and his musical team created an incredible score for Sunshine that combines futuristic techno sounds with classical orchestration. The soundtrack alone for Sunshine deserves major appreciation. I’ve listened to it several times while writing and doing other work, and every time, it conjures up visual images from the film for me, as well as touches me emotionally with its powerful deep tones. Combined with incredible sound effects, Sunshine simply sounds superb! There’s nothing like a great looking and sounding movie. When you combine those two things with a good story and great acting, you’ve got movie magic.
Having recently purchased Sunshine on blu-ray for the incredible price of $10, I’ve had the luxury of watching the film two more times recently, including while writing this review today. And I’m here to say that this is one of the best looking and sounding bluray movies out there. You can definitely show off your home entertainment system to yourself and others using Sunshine as a showcase movie.