Jaq's Review: Danny Boyle's Sunshine - In the Shadow of Art

July 31, 2007

The problem with experimental films is that sometimes they fail. Sunshine is just such a film. Directed by Danny Boyle from a script by Alex Garland, this has a wonderful pedigree – these are the same guys, after all, who brought us 28 Days Later – and really should work. But it doesn't.

This isn't to say the film is a complete failure. In fact, not only is it quite beautiful to look at, for the first half it's very good. Like a lot of modern films though, it falls apart in the conclusion, mostly, I think because Boyle and Garland don't trust their audience.

The story of the film is simple: In the not too distant future, our sun is dying and a crew of eight people have been sent to "re-start" it by igniting a bomb (known as "the payload") deep inside. This is the second attempt, since the first, seven years earlier, vanished without a trace. This is also Earth's "last, best hope," since we used up every last bit of natural resources to build this second Icarus (the name of the ship) so if the mission fails, everyone dies. So the stakes are pretty high here. A few days out from dropping off the payload and high-tailing it for home, the crew of Icarus 2 discovers the original Icarus in orbit around the sun. When they decide to alter course and grab the second payload (two bombs are better than one, always), that's when the trouble starts – not only for the crew, but for the film as well.

The crew gathers to discuss the events at hand in a scene from Sunshine.Sunshine Review

Up until this point, the film has been a slow build. We see some of the tensions boiling under the surface, tensions which it seems perfectly reasonable to have after spending 16 months together in an enclosed space. It feels like the film is going to be a character study, similar to the philosophical science fiction epic Solaris or even Boyle's own breakthrough hit Shallow Grave. Instead when the crew of Icarus 2 boards Icarus, things start to go screwy. A mistake in the calculations to change orbit leads to external damage which leads to dangerous activities outside the ship in order to fix them. So far so good. The tension is getting ratcheted up and, I'll tell you, Boyle does an amazing job of showing his viewers just how claustrophobic a space suit can be.

Then a second mistake happens and all of a sudden we've left the realm of psychological drama and have entered the milieu of random monster movie. Life threatening catastrophic events begin happening for no apparent reason other than they need to in order to increase the danger and tension. By the time the monster finally does show up, in a scene pulled in spirit from When a Stranger Calls, frankly, I'm getting bored. Why? This changes the whole dynamic of the film. Instead of dealing with internal conflict amongst the characters, they now have an external force to fight against, allowing them to put aside personal angst and come together for the betterment of humanity. This goes against grain of where the story had been heading and feels weak.

One of the many visually beautiful scenes director Danny Boyle has captured in Sunshine.Sunshine Review

As I said earlier, though, it's not a complete failure and I will still rush out and see whatever these two guys do next because at least they're taking chances. They raise interesting questions about sacrifice, hope and duty and if they trusted their audience to stick with them through the psychological, instead of, as a friend put it, throwing boulders in the road, I think they would have created art.

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I've got to completely disagree with you here on Sunshine... It was one of my own top movies of 2007 so far, and not much else comes close to it. You got one part correct - it is visually beautiful and (as most know) that is a very integral part of movies for me... However, I think the story was just as intense and riveting as it was at the start and at the end. I don't know why everyone has such a problem with the "monster" story and that whole side when it gets near the end, but I loved it. I thought it added a lot of extra tension and intensity and just completed the entire feeling that it had the full way throughout. We know these people are friends and would've completed the mission together, it had to be some external force that caused them to really start to fail. I call this the best sci fi movie of 2007 (and I dare you to find me on that's better) and I definitely would suggest this to everyone. Great movie...! And thanks for a great review anyway. 🙂

Alex Billington on Jul 31, 2007


I share very much the same opinion as Jaq, the first 2/3 of the movie were superb, the fight for survival against the hazardous nature of space travel, similar to the tension experienced in the movie Apollo 13. However, the final 1/3 presented us with such a weird twist that it actually spoiled the movie for me. So close to a master piece, but yet so far.

G James on Jul 31, 2007


Jaq, you're absolutely right about this. We all know what a sucker Alex is for snazzy special effects and visuals, and this film has that part of the game down. This is a terrific looking film. The other nice aspect is the near-realism of space travel depicted here. For a sci-fi thriller, the science is pretty well handled. However, the ending is a complete mess, Alex ... that's why everyone has a problem with it. Someone please tell me why - why - WHY Boyle and Garland would include a villain at the conclusion of the film, and then purposely obscure him throughtout he entire conclusion????? I mean, I have no problem with the idea, but the execution is absolutely the worst I have seen in some time. First of all, we are not introduced to this villain AT ALL, so he has no story and therefore no ability for an audience to relate to or even understand who or what he is. Secondly, he only appears as some sort of splotchy blob or silhouetted figure. He mumbles a few lines and tries to kill people. Due to Boyle's unfortunate idea to conceal or blur out the villain, we can barely even see what is happening during the final encounters . I have no problem with metaphysical films ... but if you're going to introduce red herrings and standard movie plotting and villains, then you had better damn well give the audience enough information - visually or otherwise - to enjoy or even understand what is happening. Alex, I'm not sure where you get your information when you watch a movie. When I watch a movie, I see the visuals, listen to the dialogue and sound effects, and note things like story structure, dialogue, and character arcs. You, meanwhile, apparently sit there with your mouth hanging open, gazing at special effects and then making up a story in your mind that seems to fit the pretty pictures. EXAMPLE: The film takes great pains to show that Cappa and Mace (played, not by computer generated effects, but by Cillian Murphy and Chris Evans) were NOT "friends" and that their combativeness was actually ENDANGERING the mission. In fact, there is little friendly interaction at all in the first hour of this film, something Boyle was trying to emphasize regarding long-term space travel. I have no idea where you came up with the idea that they were "friends and would've completed the mission together." This isn't television, Alex. While I applaud Boyle for trying to stretch the boundaries of science fiction films, he should have known better than to shit out a final act like that. No amount of pretty pictures can obfuscate the fatal problems at the end of this film.

Ray on Aug 1, 2007


Alex, I totally agree with you. You guys seem to be really unhappy with the so called "monster" part of the film. I think you guys may have been reading too far into this act. Danny Boyle has a great way for using subtext to get to the heart of a story. This movie was a perfect example of this. The theme of this movie was not if all these people can stay friends. The theme to me was more can these people keep it together to accomplish a mission against insurmountable odds. Plus when you really think about the movie was more a metaphor for meeting the creator. If you were take it from a biblical story stand point, you could actually say that the "monster" was a representation of everyones own personal demons trying to make them falter in what they had to do. I think the "monster" or captain of the icurus one was a great reperesentation of how wrong we as human beings can go with or own personal beliefs. His arguement was that we as human beings don't have a right to question gods will. Being an agnostic myself I completely don't agree with this idea. But thats the great thing about this movie. It makes you question these morals and you ask yourself the question, could I actually sacrifice myself to save the world, and what would it actually be like emotionally and physically to get there. Be far one of my top Sci-fi movies, and absolutely best movie of the year for me. 🙂

Emrys on Aug 1, 2007


I definitely enjoyed the movie. I want to know who thought it was a good idea to name a ship going to the sun Icarus. That's just a bad idea from the start haha

B on Aug 1, 2007


After reading these comments, I've realized something about movies. You can either be a movie-goer, or a critic. While some films can make a critic out of a casual movie-goer, or vice versa, Sunshine decisively cleaves the two from each other and should make it clear which of the two you predominantly are. First off, I have to say that I LOVED this film. I know this turns off those of you who didn't approve of the last half of the movie, but let me explain. From the moment this movie started, I decided that I was in for the ride. I, like Alex, was blown away by the visuals; I was riveted by the action sets; I was staring slack jawed at the screen by the end. I was there to watch the movie, not to critique it. This was my choice, and some of you have made an equally understandable decision to not simply bathe in the light of the film, but rather to try to analyze each individual flare of a plot line or directorial choice. So while we can each take sides on whether or not the film was "good" I suggest rather that we let the critics be critics (not a bad thing), and the movie-goers be movie-goers. For each group is responsible for the variety of films that are created. If the world was made up of only critics, we would never see mindless action movies like Die Hards and Terminators. But on the other side of the coin, if the world was made up of non critical people, films like Little Miss Sunshine would never be made. Viva Diversity!

Mark on Aug 1, 2007


I definitely see where you are coming from, Jaq, but I have to say that I didn't have any problems with the "monster" being there. The captain of the Icarus one is, in fact, explained well enough to us that we can make conclusions about what motivations he has for trying to kill everyone. (although we don't know why he is still alive after 7 years..) He mentions that he has been "talking to God" for seven years and that at the end of time there will be one last man alive, and then time will end. HE wants to be that man. He has somehow managed to become captain of a ship, even though he is completely insane, and he won't let anyone stand in the way of his ambition- to be the last man alone with God. This means sabotaging his own mission, and stopping the second, just so that he can be this one man; a sort of reverse Adam, without the Eve. Whether or not you think that this makes it a monster movie is up to you, but I think that it is fine for the film, and I admire Boyle and company for taking such a risk. I think that they DID create art. (SPOILER ALERT) They, just like in 28 days later and 28 weeks later (and many other films) showed what people will do to accomplish their goals, whether they are religious (the captain of Icarus I), for survival (28 days and weeks later), or for survival of the human race (Cappa's sacrifice). (I use a shitload of parentheses.) (Maybe I will start using the little superscript numbers to indicate footnotes at the bottom of the page.)

Derek on Aug 1, 2007


I LOVED the movie. The change in the story was not expected and it fit with the movie i think. It wasn't that the movie really changed its story. The story from the beginning was being trapped on a ship for a long period of time and how the first mission had failed for some reason. That reason ended up being that the captain lost it being out there in space for so long much like how the crew of the Icarus 2 was also starting to lose it. SPOILER So the suprise of the captain being the one who was sabotaging their mission as well was part of the original story line.

Heckle on Aug 8, 2007


definitely thought provoking, visually terrific, if not a little confusing!. Something to dream a little about. open to interpretation! The whole sacrifice god and mankind thing though makes me think about the possibilities of killing the planet and what matters in view of this.

rik on Oct 29, 2007

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