Is it hard sci-fi for being plausible or for approaching the implausible in a way that gives it plausibility? What I mean is, is it plausible when it doesn’t feature aliens, or when it makes you believe the aliens it features? The truth is likely yes. However, it’s sticking with me why a movie like this would be called hard science fiction more than, say, District 9. This movie certainly has its ethical and philosophical debates, but they’re few and far between and hardly relevant to the situation. Instead, the only debate relevant to the situation is the good old trapped in a building, do I have to kill everyone to live drama. It always is in sci-fi thrillers where characters are locked up on a ship for a long haul. Why, look at that–a hundred thirty four words, and I haven’t even mentioned anything real about this movie.
And I don’t even know if I want to remedy that. As a love letter to the kind of 1970s science fiction the writer grew up on, it’s serviceable. As a movie it’s pretty good. But can I honestly recommend this to anyone as a definitive example of science-fiction? Well, if you want to graduate from the line of thinking that says aliens and starfaring make science fiction, Sunshine could be the film for you. If you think that Star Wars or Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann count as science fiction, you badly need to see films like Sunshine or Moon or 2001: A Space Odyssey. That way, you can get it beaten into your head that science fiction is less about spacey, way out fantasy and more about tight, close-to-earth ethical quandaries.
Sunshine is very much about those close-to-earth ethical quandaries. Its plot concerns a team of scientists on their way to re-ignite the sun. Granted, that’s the “lies you tell to children” version of the plot. Their actual mission is far more complicated and the reasons for it are less re-ignite the sun and more allow the sun to continue burning as brightly as it used to. It involves scientific terms like Q-Ball and soliton. Or was that solotin? I don’t know, and I don’t particularly care. The science works out within the error bars called “entertainment value”, so that’s fine by me. All you need to know is, eight people, one ship, re-ignite the sun with a bomb the size of a football field cubed and roughly the mass of Manhattan Island. Is that mass from heaven to hell? Oh, there I go again…
On the way, the crew encounters a few hiccoughs in their plan. For one, three panels on the solar shield get stuck, so they have to fix those. They’re on a ship called the Icarus II–one wonders why they didn’t call the first one Daedalus, but never mind–and eventually, they get a distress signal while passing Mercury. Mercury, in case you didn’t know, is uninhabited. Why would there be a distress signal? Oh, but because it’s a movie about eight people on a space ship headed to the sun. You need to have conflict somewhere somehow, and for my money, a creepy abandoned spaceship is as claustrophobic and tense as the brightly lit, populated one. Especially if there are vague statements from the creators about one of the characters representing light and god and all this good stuff. You’ll know which one he is–he’s the walking lens flare.
So much of Sunshine is everything Moon was not. Moon is set on the Moon, Sunshine on a voyage to the sun. Moon had a single cast member on screen for nearly its entire runtime, Sunshine has eight crew members whose psychological interactions are the focus. Moon portrayed the state of mind of its characters well, even a robot. Sunshine is oddly indifferent to these people. Now, I love Moon. It’s a modern sci-fi classic par excellence in all of the right ways. This movie, however, is oddly full of religious subtext for a movie that’s ostensibly about scientists and their cold, impersonal affects dealing with trauma and stress. Everything is a metaphor for god, or Jesus, or heaven if read correctly. Discouraging.
The cast are uniformly excellent, providing rich and nuanced performances at every turn. Chris Evans proves more and more with every project he takes that he’s a capable actor and shaping up to be our new action star. I remember seeing him in Not Another Teen Movie back in the early years of this decade. I was like, ten or eleven? And I knew. I knew he was the actor going places. Just kidding, I had no idea (totally did) but I knew I liked him even there. Cillian Murphy, I first saw in 28 Days Later…, which is sorta why I expect him to be evil if he has an American accent now. Two turns as Scarecrow and one as a dude named Jackson Rippner? Yeah, that’d do it. Rose Byrne was great as the ship’s heart and pilot. Again, the two chicks around for the third act are the closer to earth Michelle Yeoh and the emotional Rose Byrne. Also, weren’t Byrne and Murphy’s characters going to do it? I swear that was being implied.
All of the other actors were perfectly serviceable, including an unusually anonymous turn from Mark Strong. I like Mark Strong. I failed to mention how awesome he was in my Kick-Ass review. Consider this my opportunity to make up for that.
At one point during the production of Lord of the Rings, Sean Astin asked the cinematographer where all the light was coming from during this night scene. While watching this movie, a lot of science heads asked where the artificial gravity was coming from. I reply by paraphrasing the cinematographer: “The same place the light and music are coming from!” When I watched this movie, I was entertained, but afterwards, I asked myself, “Self, where did this movie come from?” Sadly, the best answer I came up with was “the same place as the light, music and lens flares.” THREE STARS