Monday, 3 September 2007

DVD: Sunshine

Lowdown: There’s always the sun; the same cannot be said about humans.
Sunshine is the latest film from Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Millions) I’ve had the pleasure of watching. Not that I liked them all, but Sunshine is unique: it is a science fiction film, and I like science fiction.
Immediately as the film starts we are given the premises by a narrator: Set in the near future, the sun’s output has suddenly gone through a drastic reduction. The earth is in frozen desolation as a result, and humanity is about to expire. Icarus, a spaceship designed to drop a huge bomb made of all the fissile material on earth (or rather, half of it – read on) was sent out towards the sun several years ago, but all contact has been lost with it when it got close to the sun and radio couldn’t work anymore; obviously, given it not returning and the sun still being frozen, the ship has failed its mission. Icarus 2 was sent to do the same, and we’re following its crew as it sails into the sun in present time.
The basic premises of the sun’s death aside, this is a very solid science fiction film. As in, it is very scientific: no bullshit aliens, and things are the way you’d expect a manned mission to the sun to really be like (assuming the technology is available).
That’s all fine and dandy, but then all sorts of trouble start befalling the crew of Icarus 2 – trouble of the sort I won’t specify here to avoid ruining the film. In the process, we are reminded of HAL, the computer from 2001; in fact, all the way to the end we keep on receiving reminders of 2001, including the very end itself. And as the trouble comes forward, so does the scientific robustness fade away, at first to doubtful feats and then to the plain mythical.
The question, then, is simple: why go there? The answer, it seems to me, is also simple: through the tension of the drama and the horrors involved (yes, there are horror elements in Sunshine, although this is not your cheap “made you jump” film; think more like a subdued Alien), the purpose of the film is to tell us that we, people, are but a speck of nothing in the universe. The sun was here before us and will be here long after we’re gone, and in the grand scheme of things the universe is totally ambivalent towards us humans.
Fair enough, I say; as messages go, this one is a mighty good one. The usage of the sun in this age of global warming and the burning of fossil fuels is also a nice trick: Boyle is showing us where the answers lie.
But still, I’m asking myself: Does the end justify the means? Is the important message worth the turning of the film from glorious science fiction (emphasis on science) into a tale about the sun god? I can see where Boyle is coming from, and I can see him trying to appeal to the religiously oriented as well as the scientifically oriented, but still I wish he could have stuck to the science to produce a film that could have been a much better Sunshine.
Best scene: The computer is taking control of the ship, preventing the crew from saving two astronauts because of the danger to the mission. Very HAL like.
Picture quality: Everything looks pretty impressive, with high contrast picture and flashy effects. Dylan, whom I held in my arms throughout the film, was quite impressed. However, a closer look reveals that the high contrast comes with a lesser level of detail in the picture.
Sound quality: Sound is a major actor in this film that lacks famous faces. Since the film takes place in close confinement, sound is used to amplify the drama, and it is extremely effective in that. It does, however, come with a price: it is often over the top, attracting attention to itself.
Overall: This could have easily been a better film, but I’ll still be generous with it (call it science fiction favoritism) and grant it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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