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: Movie Review - Sunshine
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1 to 4 of 4
Dec 5th 2009
(Due to the especially problematic nature of this film's third act, this review has minor spoilers in order to discuss it)
We've grown tolerant of science fiction over the years, letting it rape science in the name of awesomeness. Hilarious depictions of human exposure to vacuum, sound propagating in space, people walking around thanks to a rarely-explained "artificial gravity", aliens who are just human beings with a different skin color and a few prosthetics, and so on.
awesome. There is no reason it should be ignored. When science fiction manages to respect actual science, the results are immensely satisfying. Stanley Kubrick did it in 1969 with his amazing "2001 - A Space Odissey", a movie that, to make up for the lack of sound in space, used the nervous breathing of the astronauts inside their spacesuits, a brilliant move to create tension -- not to mention how it depicted human exposure to vacuum with impressive accuracy, and it's a forty year old film.
And then films like "Sunshine" come along, under a pretense of being "scientifically accurate", and consistently laugh in the face of scientific fact in the name of entertainment, but treating the audience like dumbfucks.
I liked "Sunshine" when I first saw it a year ago. In fact, I loved it. But upon seeing it again, something fairly rare happened -- a complete change of opinion. Opposite to my embarassingly well-documented (
, respectively) experience with "There Will Be Blood", which I initially didn't like, but eventually loved.
In this latest viewing of "Sunshine", I couldn't help noticing the carelessness in its construction and the constant exposition in the dialogue, not to mention set pieces built entirely around scientific innacuracies. There is a threshold to how much abuse I'll let my mind take until I start disliking a film, especially when said film likes to think it's clever. It wants to awe us with its "understanding" of science, as evidenced by the moment a character says "80% of dust is human skin," for no reason, as if his brain is wired to wikipedia.
The sun is dying. After the failure of spaceship Icarus I for unknown reasons, Icarus II is sent with the same purpose -- re-igniting the star with the use of a payload consisting of a powerful bomb . But nearing Mercury, they come across the distress signal of Icarus I, and physicist Robert Capa (Cillian Murphy) suggests a detour to add their payload to their own, increasing their chances of success since the bomb's capacity of re-igniting the sun is entirely theoretical -- which makes two bombs a safer bet. This starts a dangerous chain of events that puts the mission and its crew in serious risk.
And one of the film's main problems is that this chain of events isn't believable. It starts with one of the crew members, Trey, adjusting the ship's trajectory but forgetting to adjust the huge heat shield that protects them from the sun -- you'd think
would be hard to forget, but he does. Maybe it would have sounded more credible if it wasn't for Trey's interpreter, Benedict Wong, overacting to the point of embarassment upon acknowledging his mistake.
Then some crewmembers realize moving the shield to fix it will make them lose two comm towers due to direct exposure to the sun -- they go ahead without consulting their captain, destroying a vital part of their ship without hesitation -- someone even says "We'll need the towers for the return trip," to which someone hilariously replies in a stunning display of foresight and professionalism, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
(continued in comments)
Dec 5th 2009
Finally, when two crew members are outside fixing the damage to the heat shield, right after they confirm they can do it and everyone cheers happily -- the oxygen room just catches fire as though it's saying, "SURPRISE, BITCHES". And when narrative conflicts just happen like that, it's a worrying sign of a schematic script.
Sunshine also suffers from a less than impressive art direction. While the Icarus at first seems very believable (being made out of segments like the International Space Station), the heat shield soon reveals itself so unstable that it makes the entire ship a major design fault -- after all, the mission includes abandoning this heat shield, using it to protect the payload as it goes toward the sun -- so how do they plan to survive the return trip with the much smaller, second heat shield, if the larger one could barely be moved without destroying the comm towers?
And why do the comm towers spin around the ship, protruding so far from it it's no wonder the heat shield can't protect them? Artificial gravity via centrifugal force? It doesn't work that way, but well, at least they try to explain artificial gravity in this film, even though gravity itself is dubiously represented in it -- the payload, which has the "same mass as Manhattan", seems to generate Earth gravity (as seen later in the film) -- yet somehow, this doesn't seem to interfere with the artificial gravity inside the Icarus (both are clearly not the same, since if they were the Icarus crew would have to move around the ship vertically with ladders due to their perpendicular position in relation to the payload). But this latter point is admiteddly more of a nitpick, dubious science that shouldn't hurt the film.
What does hurt the film, aside from the aforementioned dumb chain of events (which reaches unbelievably stupid heights in the film's third act, as I will discuss in a moment), is the painful sequence when the astronauts have to make a jump from a destroyed airlock to an intact airlock and only one of them has a proper spacesuit.
Their major concern? Freezing instantly when exposed to "-273 degrees celsius".
So, we have a bunch of astronauts who think the temperature of space is absolute zero and that people exposed to vacuum instantly freeze despite being
in a fucking vacuum
. And worse, one of them
freeze instantly -- we even hear the sound of his skin hardening.
. Not to mention there is no reason why the Icarus couldn't have gotten a little bit closer to the destroyed airlock to, you know, make it harder for their colleagues to
accidentally float away to their death
. It's a sequence so ridiculously full of inconsistencies it's barely worthy of a "B" movie.
Relax. I babbled enough about this. The flaws of "Sunshine" are not down to a science advisor who apparently couldn't get the filmmakers to listen. As a narrative, the film is equally flawed, not just due to its aforementioned schematic script but also because of the expositional dialogue: upon hearing a loud, continuous sound all over the ship, a character explains to the others that it's just the sound of the metal in the heat shield expanding and contracting due to the change in temperature.
... at the point when he says that, they've been travelling together for
, yet they act like it's the first time this happens. Even worse, Corazon (Michelle Yeoh) replies "I know what it is, flyboy", making the exposition even more blatant.
Alex Garland, writer of the script, does try to hide the patronising nature of these lines, but he simply can't -- in order to explain how the bomb works to the audience, he has two characters discuss death in a vaguely-related fashion and one of them starts a simulation of the bomb, explaining it to his friend while actually explaining it to the audience, and finishing it with a line that tries to justify why he just did that, but fails to convince -- it's painfully obvious the film is trying to get its viewers to understand what it's doing.
Why, instead of that, couldn't the character have simply gotten into the room and started the simulation to admire it by himself? It could have been a nice, silent scene that got whatever information it needed to get through subtly and quietly, trusting the audience instead of patronising us.
And that's another problem -- it never feels like these astronauts have been actually travelling together for sixteen months. They rarely talk to each other with intimacy, and when they go out on a spacewalk, they act like it's the first time they do that in sixteen months (speaking of which, let me add the spacesuits in the film look absolutely ridiculous).
Standing out in a problematic cast, the talented Cillian Murphy is convincing as Robert Capa, and his growing fear in the third act of the film helps the absurdity of it all feel less stupid. The other cast member who does a surprising job is Chris Evans, intense as the cold and practical Mace. Hyroyuki Sanada plays Captain Kaneda with charisma, but Rose Byrne doesn't get any room to shine as the unidimensional Cassie, neither does Michelle Yeoh as Corazon, who suffers from having to say some of the film's worst lines (the "-273 celsius" bullshit and "I know what it is, flyboy"). Troy Garity is also sabotaged by a very unremarkable character, Harvey, and Cliff Curtis plays an equally uninteresting crewmember, Searle. Finally, Benedict Wong, as I said, overacts constantly and Mark Strong embarasses himself by playing the film's most implausible and ridiculous character.
(continued in comments)
Dec 5th 2009
Finally, there's director Danny Boyle. After starting the film with a beautifully realized shot, Boyle succumbs to over-direction. Insisting on countless exterior angles exposing the Icarus, he also goes for obvious symbolism. When Searle is trying to explain two sides of an argument, the camera moves to the other side of a glass screen, illustrating that he's now talking about the other side of the argument as if we're all a bunch of retards who can't understand the basics of conversation.
And as the film progresses, Boyle exaggerates more and more and suddenly decides he wants to do an Alien film. Working with a horrendous editing work that makes Tony Scott look like a genius, the film adds a villain that would have seemed much more interesting if it wasn't for his putrid dialogue, the pathetically exaggerated way he's filmed (always out of focus, with the image shaking) and his amazing stealth abilities that make no fucking sense. And at the very end, Boyle goes as far as adding freeze frames and horribly overdone camera movements to try and create some tension.
However, it's still Danny Boyle, which means "Sunshine" does have some highlights (aside from Alwin H. Kuchler's exceptional cinematography and John Murphy's memorable soundtrack): namely, the beautiful scene when the crew of the Icarus II is hypnotized by the sight of Mercury orbiting around the sun, and the moment Robert Capa needs to jump from the Icarus to the payload -- a masterfully-shot moment with excellent music that offers a glimpse of the great film "Sunshine" could have been if Garland had revised his script and respected Science, and if Danny Boyle had done the same plus restrained himself.
However, with this much pseudo-science, pretensiousness, inconsistencies, plotholes and badly-developed characters, "Sunshine" is weak science fiction. An interesting premise that needed way more pre-production work before being filmed.
Dec 19th 2009
I didn't like this movie either.
His *leap* into left field with the whole thing at the end had me looking back and saying "I've sat this long for *this*?"
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