Thursday, 5 April 2007

Sunshine (2007)

The secret of real estate is all in the view

The Sun is cooling off, dying, and so is life on Earth. A team of astronauts are tasked to pilot a huge spacecraft armed with vast nuclear reactors into the sun in an attempt to kickstart the star. Deep down, each one knows that even if the mission succeeds, they'll die. It'll be a beautiful death, though, to bask in the thermonuclear furies of the sun... unless an unknown force is preventing their mission from carrying out its goals.

Everyone has high expectations for Danny Boyle. The director of gems like Trainspotting and 28 Days Later has proven himself to be a strong visual stylist and a successful reinventor of the zombie genre movie. You've seen the trailer for Sunshine; from its slick presentation of an "Armageddon meets Event Horizon" premise, it appears that Boyle is setting himself out to reinvent the space sci-fi movie, and we're interested to see if the director delivers his goals.

The first thing to note is that the Heroic Mission To Save The End Of The World is, despite the narration in the trailer, not overly pretentious at all. While the script only makes fleeting references to the Monumental Importance of The Mission (hence avoiding the Armageddon and Deep Impact traps), the movie's plot is safely within the slasher space horror genre. Just shortly after reaching the point of no return, the crew receive a distress call from the spaceship of the previous failed mission (no one knows why it failed), and this is when the crew of the ship - already at loggerheads with each other due to the collective existential angst of becoming heroic suicides - start to die off one by one, through accident and intentional sabotage from mysterious forces.

It is useful here to forget that you've ever watched Event Horizon in your entire life. After the first third of Sunshine establishes the moody atmosphere, introduces the hapless crew (oh little do they know that they will all die, but not in the manner they think they will die!), and drenches the eyeballs with Boyle's impressive spaceship design and aesthetics, the tentative groundwork for a potentially unique science fiction movie gives way to a sometimes plot twist for plot twist remake of Event Horizon, but this time with a different spaceship design, different crew members, and a more hip Brit-punk cinematography.

Why should we measure Sunshine primarily against Event Horizon? You'll have to note that the deaths of some Sunshine crew almost mirror those that occur in Event Horizon, almost deliberately. I'm not sure while Boyle feels the need to put his film up for comparison like this, but the fact is the deaths in Sunshine are almost free of gore and extremely unrealistic, paling in comparison to the delightful deaths in Event Horizon. It's as though Boyle wants to avoid showing any gore, yet wants to show how gruesome the deaths are anyway; but all he succeeds in is making fans of the space slasher genre very impatient and annoyed, and reminding them of how a movie made 10 years ago had a better execution.

It is more plausible that contrary to expectations, Boyle doesn't intend to reinvent the space slasher genre (a la 28 Days Later) than producing a pastiche of the genre. If we accept that, then several things automatically fall into place, such as the lack of originality, suspense, or surprise that comes with genre reinventions. Even then, one wonders why Boyle has failed to deliver real scares in this movie, or why it reeks of painful predicability. I venture that this is due to an unfortunate confluence of hewing far too close to the Event Horizon playbook and the sometimes inappropriate use of Brit rock soundtrack that punctures rather than punctuates tension-filled scenes.

Sunshine had great potential to be a classic, because Danny Boyle provides one of the best first acts in the sci-fi film genre. It is unfortunate that such a brilliant effort and originality did not continue in the movie's second and third acts. This movie may not be a classic, but it surely is one of the better sci-fi movies this decade.

First published at incinemas on 5 April 2007

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