Sometimes a movie comes along that just hits a sweet spot. Director Danny Boyle's (28 Days Later, Trainspotting) Sunshine was one of those movies for me. With it's recent DVD release, it is my hope that more people will take a chance on what I feel was one of the most underrated films of 2007. Because I want people to see this movie, I'm going to try and keep spoilers and in-depth descriptions to a minimum, but I will say that even while trying to be vague... spoilers will probably abound.
But isn't this a disaster movie blog? Where's the disaster and chaos and carnage?
The most valid argument against reviewing this movie here. It's true that Sunshine does not meet the criteria I set up just a few weeks ago when I decided to start writing these reviews, but I still believe it's worth discussing. For one thing, the story only exists because of an ongoing disaster which, if not dealt with, will end up with the Earth plunging into eternal darkness...and surely the imminent extinction of all life. Of course, you never see the Earth until the last minute of the film, but again if this disaster wasn't occurring, this adventure would not need to take place.
OK, we'll play along, so what's the disaster?
Basically, in the near future, the sun (a mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace where hydrogen is built into helium at a temperature of millions of degrees) is dying. It is turning into an inert material, and therefore is not producing much light / heat for the Earth. About 7 years prior to our entry into the story, a group of seven astronauts were sent to the sun with a giant nuclear warhead (disaster movie cliche #1) to attempt to reignite the sun. As far as anyone knew, they were not successful, so a new crew was sent out with all the remaining radioactive materials on Earth collected in a bomb that weighs as much as Manhattan Island. They are truly Earth's last hope.
So what's so special?
The main reason this movie has stuck with me so deeply is that it is one of the most visually stunning movies I have seen in a long time. There is one scene in particular fairly early in the movie where the special effects and the story and the AMAZING musical score combined to not only send chills down my spine...but took my breath away for a few seconds. It was easily the most amazing scene I have ever experienced in a movie theater. How's that for some hyperbole? The first 3/4 of the movie is a lovely piece of old-school science fiction; at times even feeling a bit like 2001: A Space Odyssey. While there is action...there is a slow and deliberate pacing to a lot of the action scenes which really helps draw out the emotional content of the scenes.
And now... M. Night Shyamalan
Not literally, but it is impossible to discuss this movie without bringing up the twist about 20 minutes before the end of the movie. This twist has violently divided people who have seen the movie. Because, you see... how do I do this gently, a new "human" character joine the Icarus II's crew. Up to this point, every bit of conflict has been between the crew, or some crisis on the ship. But there is a larger debate that our new "friend" brings up. Should we be meddling with God's work? Maybe it's just His way of saying "Ok, you humans were a good experiment, but really, I'm done with you."
It's a fascinating question, and one I'd like to have spent some time exploring. Sadly, we don't get that exploration time, we have to settle for a shift in tone for the entire movie from sci-fi to horror. Because this new character we meet, believes that we shouldn't be trying to stop the inevitable, and he takes it upon himself to make sure the mission fails...violently. Having said that, I absolutely love the way the character is presented visually. You can tell he's severely burned, but you never get a good look at him. He's blurred out, shot from weird angles, even white noise is used to completely unnerve the viewer...it is quite an interesting series of scenes. I for one find that the ending, while flawed, still works. I wish I could see the movie continue with the original tone...and see how the story would have unfolded that way.
All we are is dust in the (solar) wind
Sunshine was my third favorite movie I saw in a theater in 2007. I liked it that much. It's not perfect, but wow, what an experience it was. I was deeply saddened to see how this movie got buried. It never got any publicity, it never got a big theatrical release, and even its single DVD release with a few extras, but not a ton, got buried until after the holiday season. So I felt it was important to bring Sunshine some more well-deserved attention.
As another plug for a movie that got no love that needs to be seen by more people: Shoot 'Em Up, Shoot 'Em Up MY GOD SHOOT 'EM UP. Thank you.
Well, as I post this, it is just after 1:00 AM on 1-18-08. Which means one thing. In about 9 hours, I'm going to try and get into a showing of Cloverfield. And while it doesn't meet my usual criteria again (I don't think monster movies are true disaster movies)... the way the Statue of Liberty's head gets used as a bowling ball has got all my disaster-sense tingling. So look for my thoughts on Cloverfield here very soon.