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Sunshine Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 April 2008
ImageIt’s the year 2057 and the sun is dying.  A group of brave scientists and astronauts launch a mission aboard the Icarus II (not the most auspicious name to give a ship) to travel to the sun in order to ignite an experimental detonation that will, theoretically, restart the sun.  The dangerous journey will take three years and is in response to a previous mission, the Icarus I, which, after passing Mercury, disappeared for unknown reasons. 

The crew of the Icarus II is led by Captain Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada). Physicist Capa (Cillian Murphy) is in charge of the powder keg of advanced explosives, which is to be dropped into the sun.  Sixteen months into the journey, psych officer Searle (Cliff Curtis) becomes entranced by the sun and begins to spend long sessions bathing in its rays, under reduced levels of sun filtering, and begins to feel it is an almost religious experience. 

As the ship passes Mercury (in a poetic and evocative sequence of stunning beauty), the crew receives an electronic distress signal from the lost Icarus I, in orbit around Mercury.  It’s highly unlikely the crew is alive, as there wouldn’t be enough oxygen and food to sustain them all, but if only some of the crew remained, they may have been able to make the food last.  The crew is divided about whether to investigate, with Mace (Chris Evans) adamant about not altering their mission.  Capa points out that the use of the explosives is highly theoretical and that, if they were to commandeer the additional payload from the Icarus I, it would increase their chances of success.  Unfortunately, a mathematical error in their course calculations results in the destruction of their oxygen garden and damages some of the solar shields, which are the only thing preventing the ship from being burnt up by the sun’s rays.  Attempts to repair the solar panels results in tragedy.  After docking with the Icarus I, the ship and its crew are beset by unexpected deaths, while fanatical machinations threaten to destroy the Icarus II and all on board, in order to stop the successful completion of its mission. Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine” is a gripping, visually stunning film that treats its subject matter seriously and provides several weighty roles for the accomplished cast.  The story sweeps you along, with a sense of awe at the detail and scope of the imagery.  The central concept is excellent, but the last section of the story suffers from a misguided and unnecessary complication that undermines what has come before and turns the evocative journey into a derivative, generic science-fiction thriller.  There’s enough drama, intensity and danger in the mission itself that the inclusion of a madman running around the ship for its last act is a completely unnecessary and disappointing turn of events.  It reduces the film into a more polished “Event Horizon,” and it’s quite a letdown as one tangibly feels the movie’s initial ambitions collapse.  A touching epilogue helps, but the last act of the film taints one’s memories of the earlier, richer portion of the film. 

The cast is excellent, though one wishes some of the parts were larger.  Cillian Murphy is fine as Capa, the audience surrogate, but it feels as if he needs a few more scenes to anchor his position.  Hiroyuki Sanada does a fine job, in English, conveying both a strength and sadness that is quite captivating.  For a while he capably functions as an audience identification figure as well.  It’s also nice to see Chris Evans, the Human Torch in the “Fantastic Four” movies, in a science fiction film that isn’t completely empty, and he delivers a satisfying, weighty performance.

A film like “Sunshine” is meant to be seen on the big screen.  The film powerfully uses the sense of scale between the enormous heavenly bodies and the large spaceships that dwarf the astronauts.  It increases the sense of realism and offers insight into the characters’ psychology.  The feelings of emotional insignificance and the appreciation of the power and pull of the sun are effectively and viscerally related, which gives the imagery memorable weight and beauty.  For example, a sequence where the astronauts float over the enormous solar panels in order to repair them, has greater impact when the astronauts are the same size as the audience, who can than be impressed by the size of the ship and the vistas around the characters, as they are able to identify more directly with their point of view.  On a home theater screen, the giant ship is smaller than the audience and the astronauts are reduced to tiny figures.  The information and photography are the same but the sense of identification is reduced, which alters the audience’s visceral reaction to the imagery. There’s simply an emotional difference between how one viscerally reacts to scenes based on their size.  The visual effects are nearly flawless, conveying a level of verisimilitude that is captivating without feeling that any elements have been over-designed or art directed to the point of impracticality.

The Blu-ray disc is a superlative achievement and richly conveys the level of extreme contrast built into the visuals, which depicts the intense brightness of the sun and the deep darkness of space.  Sequences where the Icarus II or the space-suited characters appear very tiny within the frame are presented with fine detail and stable compression.  The interiors of the Icarus II are lit with cool grays, blues, and soft whites, and are accurately presented on the disc, with colored elements that visually pop, like the luminous greens of the foliage in the oxygen garden. Facial details are pin-sharp.  One shot of the planet Mercury as the ship passes into the dark side is a tad less stable than the rest, but it’s an isolated moment in a brilliantly realized BD.  It’s the best that can be done for home theater screens. 

The DTS HD Master Lossless Audio track is stunning.  The track is crisp and clean with intense dynamic highs and lows, in a mix that places the audience in a very involving position within the soundscape.  The surround channels are used frequently and intensely at times, as is the very strong LFE channel.  It’s a thoroughly exciting, and extremely accomplished mix.

The selection of bonus features is a generous and fully balanced collection of materials that is highly satisfying and engaging.  Danny Boyle is an insightful commentator and amiable Dr. Brian Cox manages to relate detailed scientific information in a way that’s accessible and interesting.  Two short film are included, but are not directed by Boyle; they are included in the interest of giving new filmmakers some exposure.  The web production diaries are brief but much better than one would expect.  They each focus on a different actor or aspect of the production, and combined they reveal many different production aspects, including accompanying the actors on a plane ride they took in order to feel the sensation of zero Gs.  The deleted scenes are mostly quiet bits that establish the daily rhythms of life aboard the Icarus II and most would have occurred early in the film.  They are interesting, but nothing that feels crucial to the film.  The inclusion of the theatrical trailer in HD is a highly welcome inclusion.  The picture-in-picture mode was not operable on the Samsung BDP-1000.

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