Saturday, July 28, 2007

Sunshine: Making me happy when skies are gray

Wow, this was a really good movie. Not to spoil the ending or anything...

2007, directed by Danny Boyle

There's a Ray Bradbury short story called "The Golden Apples of the Sun" in which a team of astronauts pilots a ship to the sun in order to retrieve a "cupful" of solar material (you can read the story at the end of this blog post, which compares it to Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's first issue of All-Star Superman). Danny Boyle's new science fiction film posits a sort of inverted scenario: a team of astronauts is traveling to the sun, but with the purpose of reigniting it after it has nearly burned out by dropping a "stellar bomb" into the star. It's one of those goofy sci-fi ideas that sounds cool but isn't really very scientifically accurate (I believe the sun will actually expand to engulf the earth before it burns out, and that will be much farther in the future than this film seems to take place). But it still makes a hell of a movie, and Boyle (who also directed films like Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, and Millions) takes the opportunity to deliver some gorgeous imagery over the course of Alex Garland's (the novel The Beach, 28 Days Later) tense and philosophical script.

The eight-man team of astronauts are a compelling bunch, standouts being Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Red Eye, Batman Begins) as the astrophysicist, Chris Evans (Fantastic Four) as the pilot, and Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) as the botanist. Cliff Curtis is also excellent as the sun-obsessed psychologist, and Hiroyuki Sanada (whom I just watched in the excellent The Twilight Samurai) turns in a good, stoic performance as the captain. Over the course of the movie, they argue, struggle with questions of existence, and work together to overcome obstacles. There are crises, both intellectual and philosophical, and it gets very tense watching them try to overcome them.

The main crisis occurs when the crew of the obviously-named Icarus II discovers their predecessor, the Icarus I, which disappeared seven years earlier without completing the mission. Is it still functional? Is the crew still alive? Should they stray from their mission and try to rendezvous with the ship? The results of their decisions lead to some incredibly tense sequences, and even a shift to a sort of horror-movie atmosphere near the end of the film. I don't know if space malfunctions have ever been so white-knuckle inducing.

But the best aspect of the film is probably the visuals. The solar vistas that we witness are breathtaking (they were probably created via computers, but they're still amazing), and it's easy to understand the obsession that some crew members start to feel toward sunlight. At times, we see characters against painfully bright backgrounds, which is a good way of communicating the danger to the audience. At other times, the image itself is distorted, almost like the film itself is burning. It's a fascinating effect that makes you feel like the world is burning up. Boyle uses plenty of other visual tricks, like subliminal imagery or a holodeck-like recreational/therapy room, making a complete, compelling experience. It's beautiful stuff; I'll have to watch it again to try to catch all the details I might have missed.

But it's still an emotional and intellectual story, with discussions about whether the mission to save humanity should be endangered in order to save one person, or whether we should mess with the natural order of things. It's quite fascinating, and I really can't recommend this film enough; it's sure to be one of my favorites of the year.

I might have to do more movie reviews if I'm not doing any comics reviews right now. I gotta write something! Stay tuned for more content, as always.

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