Now that Mr Lucas has finally finished making all his Star Wars films, and Firefly and Serenity have come and gone, any space film that comes along is going to be somewhat of an event – and also, it’s going to have to have great strengths of its own to stand in that august company of Really Famous Space Films.
So when I heard (via the last Popcorn Taxi email that came in before I unsubscribed as per my newness block rules) that Danny Boyle, who’d brought us such things as Trainspotting and 28 Days Later was turning his attention to a sci-fi film, I knew that the results would be interesting, to say the least. (While a bit on the nasty side, 28 Days Later is one of the most innovative horror films to come out recently.)
In addition, the name Sunshine is somewhat of a soft spot for me since the little seen, but very thought-provoking film of the same name by Istvan Szabo, starring Ralph Fiennes, which came out six or seven years ago. For both films, the happy-sounding title is really just an ironic name for what is to be a much darker affair.
The story (as much as I want to share – but if you want lots of spoilers, feel free to watch the trailer) is set in the year 2057. The sun is dying out, and earth is in a state of perpetual winter. Man’s last hope is to send a gigantic bomb the size of Manhattan up into the sun, to attempt to reignite the dying star.
Pushing this truly gigantic bomb is a slender, long spaceship containing eight astronauts and scientists. The fate of the world really does rest on their shoulders.
The trailer (which I seriously would recommend giving a miss, but you’ve probably already Googled it by now) and marketing material play this up as a bit of sci-fi thriller in the style of Alien, and certainly the film is meant to be a tense ride, and does get more and more thrillerish as the story goes along.
But, really, the strength of the film is in watching what happens when things start to go wrong, and the life and death decisions the crew makes. We know from the beginning that when you have a spaceship full of people, not everyone’s going to make it, and it’s just a matter of who dies when under what circumstances (forgive me if you didn’t know this was how these type of films worked). However, normally, most of these ensemble films revolve around the concept of survival: the goal is to get as many of the group out alive as possible.
But, in this case, the goal is to set off a bomb in the sun, and so the decisions that are made head in quite different (and ultimately less selfish) directions than you would get in a typical survival ensemble film.
The other great strength of the film is watching people’s reactions in the face of the sun. The same fascination that makes people like playing with fires comes to the forefront here, in the face of the most massive of conflagrations. I would highly recommend seeing this on the biggest screen possible to take advantage of a lot of the sun shots, which I found most impressive on the massive screen at Bondi Junction.
Some people may find it a bit cliched, with a lot of nods to the old classics like 2001. (Oddly enough, though, nobody in the Q & A session with Danny after the film mentioned the film that this story borrows from the most – Disney’s metaphysical sci-fi film, The Black Hole – and I didn’t think of it until after I’d left so I apologise that I didn’t get to ask the question either . . .) However, by treading in these familiar paths (while still having its own unique story about the sun), I think this just makes the film stronger.
Overall, this is a sci-fi winner. 4 out of 5.