×

Sunshine

Like a collapsing star, "Sunshine" initially burns brightly but finally implodes into a dramatic black hole. Augmented by an ace digital soundtrack, the high-concept sci-fier delivers some atmospheric drama that's gripping for two-thirds of the voyage.

With:
Capa - Cillian Murphy Mace - Chris Evans Cassie - Rose Byrne Corazon - Michelle Yeoh Kaneda - Hiroyuki Sanada Searle - Cliff Curtis Harvey - Troy Garity Trey - Benedict Wong Pinbacker - Mark Strong Voice of Icarus - Chipo Chung Capa's Sister - Paloma Baeza Children - Archie Macdonald, Sylvie Macdonald

Like a collapsing star, “Sunshine” initially burns brightly but finally implodes into a dramatic black hole. Augmented by an ace digital soundtrack, the high-concept sci-fier, about scientists sent to reignite the dying sun, delivers some atmospheric drama that’s gripping for two-thirds of the voyage. But like helmer Danny Boyle’s other collaborations with writer Alex Garland (“The Beach,” “28 Days Later”), it’s finally an odyssey to no-ideas-ville that ends up relying on technical oomph. Sans marquee names, pic will depend on savvy marketing and positive reviews to click with a young demographic, with good rather than dazzling business likely.

Already screened at several German fantasy fests in mid- to late March, pic goes out rapidly across much of the globe starting April 5. In the U.S., Fox Searchlight is holding back release until Sept. 14.

Film surfs any number of space movies in which a journey becomes a metaphor for travel into the human subconscious. At the arty end of the spectrum, “Solaris” and “2001” are clear inspirations; more mainstream parallels include “Event Horizon,” “Alien” and the much-fraught “Supernova.”

But the closest parallel doesn’t even appear on Boyle and Garland’s published viewing list — Peter Hyams’ “2010,” right down to its terrestrial coda. Substitute the sun for Jupiter and, in structure and theme, as well as on-board character drama, “Sunshine” is almost a remake.

Time is 2057, seven years after the spacecraft Icarus and its crew were lost on a previous mission to kickstart the fading sun. As pic opens, a replacement ship carrying a massive nuclear device is 16 months into its voyage and only 36 million miles from its target. Per the opening v.o. by mission physicist Capa (Cillian Murphy, “28 Days Later”), who clearly studied script pitching sessions, “Eight astronauts strapped to the back of a bomb, my bomb. Welcome to Icarus II.”

In a nod to the probable reality of future power-sharing (as well as international box office), almost half the crew is of Asian descent, including Captain Kaneda (Japan’s Hiroyuki Sanada, “The Twilight Samurai”), biologist Corazon (Malaysia’s Michelle Yeoh) and navigator Trey (British-Chinese thesp Benedict Wong). As the story opens, Trey is cooking stir-fried noodles in the kitchen and everyone is eating with chopsticks.

On the occidental side, apart from Capa, there’s pilot Cassie (Aussie actress Rose Byrne), med officer Searle (Kiwi Cliff Curtis) and two Yanks, communications officer Harvey (Troy Garity) and engineer Mace (Chris Evans).

As Icarus II enters the “dead zone,” in which all communication with Earth will end, most of the initial character interplay is between the combustible Mace and maverick Capa, with a smidgen of sexual chemistry between the latter and Cassie. With scientific jargon centering on the sun’s power, and some impressive visual effects for both the seething orb and a virtual-reality cure chamber, the script develops an atmosphere of possible realism, in a movie kind of way, avoiding the grunge beloved of ’90s sci-fiers.

Plot picks up in the third reel as the crew detects a faint signal from the original Icarus and has to decide whether to check it out. It’s the first of several decisions that are dealt with in a practical, scientific way; later ones, involving sacrifice for the greater good, come down to a sheer numbers game that generates its own drama when applied to human lives.

When Trey bungles the course adjustment, a series of events are set in motion that have escalating consequences. First big set piece, as Capa and Kaneda exit the ship to repair sun shields, is handled with a good balance between f/x and the human drama. Ditto the later boarding of the Icarus — a dust-covered ghost ship that may hold a secret — and the nail-biting transfer back to Icarus II.

It’s during the final act that Garland’s science-based approach starts to go haywire, as he struggles for a conclusion to his Big Idea and can only come up with a fuzzy religioso message (rather like “2010”) capped by an increasingly visceral, killer-on-the-loose finale. Latter becomes progressively more ridiculous after the script’s earlier, careful calibrations.

Still, for the first hour or so “Sunshine” is gripping enough with its solid performances, good-looking CGI, underlying tension and resonant, iron-hard digital soundtrack. Pic could have done more, however, to emphasize the claustrophobia of eight humans attached to a nuclear bomb that’s (literally) the size of Manhattan.

Though it takes a while to sort out who’s who among the Westerners, and only Yeoh gets much of a part among the Asians, Boyle generally directs fluidly, making the most of p.d. Mark Tildesley’s sensible, not-too-futuristic sets, lensed with cool reserve by Alwin Kuchler. (Whole pic was shot in East London’s 3 Mills Studios.)

Performances blend OK, with Murphy making a charismatic lead and Byrne making the most of a smaller role. John Murphy’s techno-rock music refreshingly avoids the usual outer-space cliches.

Sunshine

U.K.-U.S.

Production: A 20th Century Fox (in U.K.)/Fox Searchlight (in U.S.) release of a Fox Searchlight Pictures (U.S.)/DNA Films (U.K.) presentation, in association with U.K. Film Council, Ingenious Film Partners, of a DNA Films production, in association with Dune Entertainment, Major Studio Partners. Produced by Andrew Macdonald. Co-producer, Bernard Bellew. Directed by Danny Boyle. Screenplay, Alex Garland.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color, widescreen), Alwin Kuchler; editor, Chris Gill; music, John Murphy, Underworld; production designer, Mark Tildesley; supervising art director, David Warren; art directors, Gary Freeman, Stephen Morahan, Denis Schnegg; costume designer, Suttirat Anne Larlarb; makeup designer, Mark Coulier; makeup and hair designer, Christine Blundell; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital/SDDS), Tim Fraser, Tom Sayers, John Hayward; sound designer, Glenn Freemantle; second unit camera, Peter Talbot; model unit camera, Stuart Galloway; visual effects supervisor, Tom Wood; special effects supervisor, Richard Conway; stunt coordinator, Julian Spencer; assistant director, Richard Styles; casting, Donna Isaacson, Gail Stevens. Reviewed at Century preview theater, London, March 21, 2007. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 107 MIN.

With: Capa - Cillian Murphy Mace - Chris Evans Cassie - Rose Byrne Corazon - Michelle Yeoh Kaneda - Hiroyuki Sanada Searle - Cliff Curtis Harvey - Troy Garity Trey - Benedict Wong Pinbacker - Mark Strong Voice of Icarus - Chipo Chung Capa's Sister - Paloma Baeza Children - Archie Macdonald, Sylvie Macdonald

More Film

  • BAFTA headquarters at 195 Piccadilly, London

    BAFTA Undertakes Major Renovation of Its London Headquarters

    BAFTA has undertaken a major renovation of its London headquarters that will double the building’s capacity and increase space devoted to the British academy’s programs to promote skills training and new talent. Work has already begun on the $31 million overhaul, which is expected to take two years. In the interim, BAFTA will relocate its [...]

  • Andhadhun

    Booming Digital Lifts Eros Indian Film Distribution Giant

    Eros International, India’s largest and most controversial film distributor, says that its digital revenues now outstrip conventional theatrical and syndication revenues. Its Eros Now streaming platform claims 18.8 million paying subscribers. The New York-listed company reported annual results that were distorted by multiple adjustments to presentation. Reported revenues in the year to end of March [...]

  • The Eight Hundred (The 800)

    Second Huayi Brothers Film Is Canceled as Company's Losses Mount

    Still reeling from the cancellation of the theatrical release of its blockbuster “The Eight Hundred,” production studio Huayi Brothers has been hit with another setback: Its comedy “The Last Wish” has also been quietly pulled from China’s summer lineup. Both films have fallen afoul of China’s increasingly heavy-handed censors. The unwelcome development comes as Huayi [...]

  • Sean AstinCritics' Choice Awards, Arrivals, Los

    Film News Roundup: Sean Astin Cast in 'Mayfields Game,' 'Charming the Hearts of Men'

    In today’s film news roundup, Sean Astin gets two roles, two “Peanuts” movies are set for release, “One Last Night” gets distribution and Brian De Palma gets honored. CASTINGS Sean Astin has been cast in a pair of upcoming feature films: “Mayfield’s Game” opposite Mira Sorvino and “Charming The Hearts of Men” opposite Kelsey Grammer. Astin [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content