Sunshine follows four weeks in hell
Rarely has a film adopted so explicitly and so successfully the key innovations of its predecessors. From “2001” “Sunshine” gets the Icarus II, a massive, antiseptic ship under the control of an eerily calm anthropomorphized computer that floats toward an awe-inspiring destination on a mission of mythic proportions.
The exterior shots of the ship, on a mission to plunge a bomb the size of Manhattan Island into the heart of the sun and thus reignite our star, and the suspenseful EVA scenes that place the fragile crew in bulky spacesuits with limited movement and field of vision, are both clearly inspired by Kubrick’s masterpiece.
If Boyle and Garland lifted the atmosphere of “Sunshine” from “Space Odyssey,” then from Ridley Scott the two take their plot and their people. Diverted from its mission by a distress call from their predecessor, presumed lost seven years before, the ominously christened Icarus II finds itself gradually torn apart by accidents, rising tensions amongst its multinational crew and a mysterious adversary that has snuck aboard ship.
That “Sunshine” ends up a satisfying summer chiller and an above-average example of its genre is both a testament to careful film craftsmanship and lamentable proof of the recent dearth of creativity in space-based cinematic science fiction (which can perhaps be further traced back to a lack of progress in real human space exploration).
Boyle’s knack for building tension serves him well in the hot, bright depths of the space around the sun. All the Chekhovian guns go off in turn as each of the crew members meets a gruesome death.
One thing that does set “Sunshine” apart is that it is a thriller before it is science fiction. Unlike its inspirations, there’s not much mind paid to scientific plausibility here. The sun is dying for some unexplained reason, and the same logic lies behind the solution. Most of the mechanisms on the ships work (or don’t) simply “because.”
But though it may lack the depth of “2001,” “Sunshine,” for better or worse, does attempt to make a point. Its monster is neither a cold, arrogant, calculating machine nor a mysterious extraterrestrial horror ― it is a mere man whose mind has, over long years in space, been corrupted by his proximity to the sun ― the most ancient object of human worship ― turning him into an apocalyptic religious fanatic bent on destroying humanity’s last chance at survival.
This theme is both the movie’s single intellectually stimulating idea and, unfortunately, the reason it will probably not prove the mainstream break that Boyle and Garland still need.
Though of course, there’s always the chance the masses will miss the point in favor of the thrills and chills of death in space.
By Ben Applegate Contributing Writer [firstname.lastname@example.org]