A Visually Dazzling Sci-Fi Thriller With Some Interesting Ideas
Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Millions, 28 Days Later) directed Sunshine (2007), a serious, but entertaining science-fiction movie. The ensemble cast includes Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Michelle Yeoh, Rose Byrne, Cliff Curtis and Troy Garity (son of Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda).
The story is set in 2057 when the sun is putting out less and less heat, causing Earth to become colder and colder. Scientists decide the last, best hope for the survival of the human race is to send a huge thermonuclear bomb to the sun and detonate it there. The film takes place almost entirely on the spaceship delivering the bomb and follows the eight-person crew as they deal with obstacles that threaten the mission.
Sunshine is visually arresting and seamlessly integrates CGI. The soundtrack score is also good, particularly the electronic music by the duo Underworld. The movie's premise is intriguing, and the plotting is strong. Furthermore, the theme of pitting extreme religious fundamentalism against rational human thought is provocative.
Some people put Sunshine in the tradition of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Solaris (1972), but that sets viewer expectations wrong for the 2007 movie. When Kubrick and Tarkovsky made their now-classic films years ago, they created works that required patient, contemplative theater audiences. But the sensibility in Sunshine is quite different. Its first act is deliberately paced, but by the third act, its tone has shifted radically, and it's turned into a thriller. Also, the psychological interactions among the characters are sometimes handled unconvincingly.
A Pair of Audio Commentaries
The DVD provides two separate audio commentaries, but if you're interested in the science part of Sunshine, listen first to the one by Dr. Brian Cox of the University of Manchester and the CERN research facility in Geneva. His concept for the movie's premise is that an exotic object known as a Q-ball has drifted into the sun and is eating the star from the inside out. The bomb then is intended to remove the Q-ball. Throughout the film, Dr. Cox points out where the science is known to be correct and where artistic license has been taken for the sake of the story. But his commentary is not strictly technical. For example, he talks a little about the philosophical issues raised and asks the question: if the universe is absolutely pointless, how are we supposed to live?
If you would like to know more about what went into making the movie, you'll want to listen to the commentary by director Danny Boyle. He says he cast Asians as three of the eight crewmembers to reflect the economies he expects will be able to pay for such an expensive mission in 2057. He also reports that he made the actors live together in student accommodations to set up the group dynamic. At one point he envisioned a romance between Cillian Murphy's and Rose Byrne's characters, including a love scene in the oxygen garden, but decided it was not a good fit with the rest of the story. And he mentions that the last scene was shot outdoors in Stockholm, but in the film we see a composite of that footage and a picture of the Sydney Opera House.
Additional DVD Extras
The DVD offers seven deleted scenes with a total runtime of 19 minutes. These can optionally be viewed with audio commentary supplied by director Danny Boyle. Perhaps the most interesting thing here is that CGI has not been added to some scenes, and one has to imagine that working on such barebones sets makes it more difficult for the actors to deliver convincing performances.
Also on the DVD are 23 segments of Web Production Diaries with a total runtime of 47 minutes. These have been available via Internet for a long time, but collectively they do constitute something like a making-of documentary. In "Voice of Icarus" you can get a look at Chipo Chung, the unseen woman who speaks in reassuring tones to provide the communications interface between the spaceship and its crew. If you're wondering what Dr. Brian Cox looks like, watch "The Science of Sun Death," and you'll notice that he appears to be roughly the same age as the actor Cillian Murphy.
Finally, the DVD contains two shorts, "Dad's Dead" and "Mole Hills," each of which is about six minutes long. Both are mildly amusing, but they are unrelated to Sunshine. Apparently the reason they are on the DVD is that Danny Boyle wanted to give filmmakers who are not established a way to get their creations seen.
Below I have listed the details for the DVD containing Sunshine.
Release Date: January 8, 2008
Feature Film Runtime: 1 hour 47 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Violent Content and Language
Widescreen (2.35:1), Color
English 5.1 Dolby Surround
English for the Visually Impaired
French Dolby Surround
Spanish Dolby Surround
English Captions for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired
Audio Commentary by Director Danny Boyle
Audio Commentary by Scientific Consultant Dr. Brian Cox
Deleted Scenes (7 scenes with total runtime = 19 min.)
Web Production Diaries (23 segments with total runtime = 47 min.)
Short Film: "Dad's Dead" (6 min.)
Short Film: "Mole Hills" (6 min.)