Danny Boyle Energizes Sci-fi with a Trip to the Sun

Maui Time | July 15, 2007
In a bold attempt to create a fresh update on the ever-flagging sci-fi movie genre, director Danny Boyle (28 Days Later) achieves a visually stunning cinematic poem that is as bewitching as it is infuriating for its dependence on genre cliches. A crew of eight scientists, engineers and astronauts helm the "Icarus II," a massive nuclear bomb-laden craft on a last-ditch mission to reignite part of the Sun to end a solar winter threatening to destroy life on Earth. The year is 2057, and 16 months into the mission the male and female team get a distress beacon from the original "Icarus I" craft that disappeared seven years earlier. As they grapple over whether to answer the call, the crew exposes their vital task to unforeseen dangers.

Sunshine is perhaps the first science fiction movie since Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey to approach that magnificent film's vivid otherworldly dynamic. Boyle takes full advantage of state-of-the-art CGI artistry toward a narrative strategy that convinces before imploding with the arrival of a grotesque antagonist in the third act.

In the opening shot we witness the tremendous burning platinum Sun as a fetish object for the ship's Medical Officer Searle (Cliff Curtis -- Whale Rider) who watches it through a large window at two percent of its brilliance as regulated by the ship's female-voiced computer. Searle asks the mainframe to double the intensity only to learn that such brightness would blind him. Here is a man so completely seduced by the Sun's extraordinary power that his logic is irreparably impugned. As time goes by, Searle's face will become blistered and burned due to his obsessive fixation with the nearing ball of fire.

Still, Searle's philosophically challenged character -- he thinks the Sun may be the face of God -- takes a backseat to onboard Physicist Capa (Cillian Murphy) and the ship's testosterone-driven Engineer Mace (Chris Evans). Capa and Mace engage in some unexplained fisticuffs on a couple of occasions that point out the screenwriter's laziness in fleshing out relationships between the crewmembers. As the one person capable of activating the ship's Manhattan-sized atomic payload, Capa is an emotionally aloof protagonist whose flawed judgement enables the group to divert their mission. Entrusted with charting a course that will still allow enough fuel and oxygen to deliver their explosive device, Navigation Officer Trey (Benedict Wong) overrides the ship's mainframe with a miscalculation that sends the team into a desperate grab at salvaging their original intent. Internal power plays and individual crises collide when four members of the team explore the dust-covered remains of the barren Icarus I spacecraft. Echoes of Ridley Scott's Alien prevail as the would-be rescuers discover an insane surviving Captain Pinbacker (Mark Strong) who has become a flesh-dripping monster intent on killing them. Pinbacker's blurry specter believes he "has been talking to God for the last seven years," and the religious infatuation connects directly to Searle's fate. But it's this problematic villainous subplot that switches the previously big idea picture into a slasher chase thriller that pollutes the simplicity that has gone before.

Screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later) researched much of the hard science referenced in the film with the help of British physicist Dr. Brian Cox, but his script dents Boyle's radical visual approach with a silly B movie sci-fi contrivance. For as impressive as the Icarus II's gold colored mile-wide reflective disc is for its protective reflecting power against the Sun, the introduction of a fuzzy-framed ghost man neutralizes the poetic spell. Boyle makes a disastrous visual misstep in his decision to only show Pinbaker's shifting image through hazy stop-action framing that transforms the already artificial character into an unexplained apparition.

And yet, the author's most egregious oversight lies in the squandering of secondary characters Biologist Corazon (Michelle Yeoh) and Ship's Pilot Cassie (Rose Byrne) as the film's female repository of wisdom and potential source of sexual energy. The women function as surrogate audience members who witness, as we do, the damage that collects around the ankles of men on the brink of insanity. The filmmakers fail to notice that Corazon and Cassie are the film's source of modernity and that their sense of balance could have kept the story's knee-jerk killer instinct in check. Nevertheless, Danny Boyle's technical and commercial innovations in cinema are as relevant today as they were when he shook the world by the scruff of its neck with Trainspotting. He's well on his way toward creating a masterpiece, if only he finds the right source material.

Rated R, 147 mins. (B-)

Maui Time

Maui Time Weekly provides insightful analysis and in depth reporting. We believe some issues are so important they require thoughtful consideration. We are not a “paper of record”—a daily journal of government meetings, ribbon-cuttings and corporate announcements. We decide what’s...
More »
Contact for Reprint Rights
  • Market Served: Metropolitan Area
  • Address: 33 N. Market St., Suite 201, Wailuku, HI 96793
  • Phone: (808) 244-0777