If you’ve been reading me for any length of time, you’ll have heard me rant about the dearth of decent science fiction film. There are lots of different kinds of science fiction novels; even television is doing okay. But how many movies are about people in extreme situations, rather than natural disasters or big aliens or nifty lasers? I still maintain that 28 Days Later is one of the best science fiction films of recent years, and luckily for me Danny Boyle is back with Sunshine.
It’s more “classically” science fiction, in the sense that I’m not going to get any arguments this time about whether it’s scifi or zombies. The plot is, in fact, almost absurdly simple: seven astronauts and scientists are traveling towards the sun with a payload that (the film remains cleverly vague about the details, which is always better than trying to blind us with lots of jargon) will reignite the dying star and temporarily relieve the permanent winter of the Earth. As always when you put humans in a small space with no chance of rescue, stuff happens. Bad stuff. There’s a failed mission from seven years ago! There’s a fire! There’s human error! And there’s a strange turn towards horror in the last act, which in my opinion was fairly unnecessary.
But that’s not really what you’re watching. What you’re watching is basically a feature-length exploration of Man’s timeless urge to look directly into the sun, despite certain destruction. Eyes abound here, from Cillian Murphy’s icy blues, to the psychologist’s shades surrounded by skin fried from his obsessive observation, to the round heat-shields of the ship itself, designed to stare constantly because blinking or looking away will spell death for the crew.
Of course there’s madness, and there’s a race against time. And it’s all artfully done, with a clear directorial hand. It’s not perfect, but it is impressive. Best of all, it’s thoughtful and entertaining without being obtuse, and the Transformers and War of the Worlds-style summer blockbuster has a viable alternative.