Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland (‘The Beach’) last collaborated on ‘28 Days Later…’, which up-ended convention with the introduction of fast zombies. ‘Sunshine’, set in 2057, is comparably contrary: the set-up is a climate-change crisis in which not global warming but a big chill is jeopardising the earth, while the ticking-clock narrative demands a massive bomb be detonated, not defused. The sun is dying and eight sexy astronauts (including Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh and Chris Evans) have been dispatched to the heart of the solar system to kickstart the sputtering star. Their ship is the Icarus II. Now, to launch one mission named after the embodiment of hubris might seem questionable; to send another after it once its wings have been singed is surely asking for trouble, and, sure enough, our heroes soon find themselves faced with a painful dilemma, fraying nerves and one or two things that go bump…
There’s plenty here that doesn’t quite satisfy: the characterisation and dialogue feel thin; the plot veers awkwardly into slasher territory two-thirds in; and the future sensibility, which aims to meld deep-space functionality with metaphysical anxiety, is palpably derivative of ‘Alien’, ‘Solaris’, ‘Dark Star’, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ et al. (There’s even a ‘Star Trek’ holodeck.) More impressive are the sound design and score, by Underworld’s Rick Smith and Karl Hyde with John Murphy, which conjure an aptly foreboding aural backdrop for some strikingly suspenseful ‘exterior’ action sequences – particular stand-outs are a suitless space-walk and a repair sortie on to the enormous curved golden shield that protects the ship from the sun’s rays. For these, Doyle and DoP Alvin Küchler potently alternate pitch dark and an overpowering light that constantly threatens destruction.
It’s in the relationship between the crew and the sun that ‘Sunshine’ really shines. The star is a siren here, perilously captivating; when we first see psych officer Searle (Cliff Curtis), it takes a minute to realise that his permatanned, panda-eyed complexion is the result of too many hours on the observation deck. The awesome CG solar designs (by the Moving Picture Company) make this compulsion quite understandable, forging a powerful link between them and us – we too sit gazing at the playing light, fascinated and at its mercy. Forget fantasies of global catastrophe or psycho killers: the realest violence a director can inflict on his audience is to flood the cinema with white.
Cast and crew