There are certain tropes that fit into certain genres of film. Your rom-com has a basic plot of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl get back together again. There is normally a sarcastic/cynical/gay friend of one of the parties, there will also be a ‘hilarious’ misunderstanding leading to the inevitable breakup.
The same is true for ‘hard’ sci-fi movies – people will go mad from the isolation, oxygen supplies will be limited and someone will take a wander outside without the benefit of a spacesuit.
Sunshine is one of these sci-fi films. Set in the near future it has the Sun dying (for unspecified reasons) with our only chance of survival being the successful detonation of a huge bomb within the Sun.
There are some stunningly good shots of the exterior of the spaceship, and like ‘300’ there is a element of art around it, slow lingering shots of machinery lit by the subtle yellows and reds of the sun. The sets are superb (and they filmed it down the road from me), and the acting shows real difference between the characters.
There are two problems that I have with the film, one of which is probably quite personal.
It tries to be a ‘spiritual experience’, it is alluded to that the sun, as the source of all life in the solar system, is somehow embodied with a spiritual resonance. As an atheist and therefore spiritually dead person I’ve never had much of a liking for this sort of thing. If it were explicitly spiritual then this wouldn’t be a problem, I’d view it as such. Unfortunately this film doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. It veers between trying to be ‘hard sci-fi’, ‘psychological drama’, ‘disaster movie’, ‘spiritual experience’ and ‘slasher pic’. The slasher plot that arrives late in the film is a distraction, and given the excellent camerawork of the first part of the film the appearance of the slasher results in a lot of distracting blurring of the killer. Consequentially the film turns into a bit of a mish-mash.
The other consequence of this mix of genres is that it tries to be ‘hard science’, but then fails horribly. I can forgive the McGuffin of a huge bomb to relight the Sun, I can also forgive that we have apparently developed artificial gravity. But when things go ‘whoosh’ in the vacuum of space* and when the suns rays burn you through a viewing window even though the window can’t be pointing at the sun, it just makes my teeth grind.
I really wanted to like this film, I’ve loved the other films by Boyle and Garland and have looked forward to this from the first time I heard of it. Unfortunately I may have set my hopes too high. If you have seen 2001, Event Horizon and Deep Running – then you’ve seen much of this film. If you want to go and see this film then go for the astounding visuals, the excellent soundtrack and the good acting; just don’t go expecting a plot that does anything new.
*Thinking on it, the Sun does have an atmosphere, so perhaps that explains the whooshing. They did have a very bright science guy working on the film.