Aug 3, 2007


Rating: 33 out of 50 SPF

SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Solar Crises may cause human intelligence to drop sharply, seriously impacting missions to avert said crises.

Man, this was a bit of a disappointment. Ever since the trailer for Sunshine appeared on the net, I have been foolishly getting my hopes up that somebody was actually making a once-or-twice-in-a-decade, smart science fiction movie.

To give Sunshine credit, it does look sort of intelligent. Vaguely ludicrous premise aside (the sun is cooling down so we're going to go fix it with the traditional Hollywood lazy screenwriter tool, the giant bomb), the sets and effects look pretty top-notch, with very practical-looking design. But the intelligence pretty much ends there.

It's pretty obvious that screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later, The Beach) and director Danny Boyle (ditto) didn't do a lot of reading about any real space program, for starters. The actual design of the Icarus II -- the spaceship carrying the humongous jumper cable bomb that will kickstart the sun (mix metaphors and stir well before drinking) -- is completely retarded. If there's one thing that virtually every documentary about NASA mentions, it's redundancy. (i.e. You don't send people out into space with one working toilet and just hope nobody flushes too many paper towels.)

Icarus II (and, presumably, its not-so-optimistically-named predecessor, Icarus I) is controlled by one computer. It has one airlock. It has one sun-starter bomb. It has one crew member who can activate the sun-starter bomb. The crew is supplied with oxygen by one "oxygen garden" (more about that later), divided into one compartment, which also contains the oxygen storage tanks. Are you starting to sense a pattern?

And, incidentally, who names a mission to the sun "Icarus," for God's sake?

I'll tell you who: people who only vaguely remember who Icarus was and what happened to him and didn't bother to look it up before writing their screenplay. Not really a name to inspire confidence.

Speaking of not looking things up, Garland apparently went by vague middle-school memories of how photosynthesis works, conflated that with some idea about space colonies using plants to "make" oxygen, and very clearly didn't think much more about it. Believe me, kids, we are not going to send people on a 16 month space voyage and hope that some ferns will magically make oxygen for them. Sure, plants can produce oxygen from carbon dioxide, meaning you could use them to recycle air, but there are vastly better ways of doing this -- how do you think the International Space Station does it? A bed of pansies? (In case you're wondering, they use this.)

Garland also can be credited with the wonderfully stupid design of Icarus's computer. Not only is there only one computer to control the entire ship, but that computer can only be worked on if you remove it from its liquid coolant bath (which apparently cannot be drained to any kind of reservoir), which renders it inoperative. Nice going, rocket scientists. Find me one person, anywhere, who has ever used a computer, who will trust their life to a liquid-cooled computer with no backup.

You'll notice, if you're still reading, that I haven't mentioned the plot. Well, I was trying to avoid spoilers, but I'll just say that it says something when just about the least preposterous thing in the movie is the idea that you could use a big bomb to re-light the sun.

This is a movie inhabited by people who are supposed to be scientists and astronauts. These are the seven people trusted to save humanity, for the love of God, and they are total idiots. Seriously, this movie would have been much more believable if Keanu Reeves had been cast in a lead role, because one never loses their suspension of disbelief when he does something idiotic.

Example (dialog is not from the film):

Character A: Let's go do something involving leaving our ship.
Character B: Good idea, but let's not take spacesuits with us.
Character A: Yeah. I mean, what could possibly go wrong, in space, that would require us to have spacesuits with us?
Character B: Totally. If you need me, I'll be staring at the sun without my sunglasses.
Character A: Could you run these scissors down to the oxygen garden for me?
Character B: Sure!
Exit Character B, at a sprint, with scissors.

And character stupidity isn't the only problem, here. The movie basically drops out of science fiction mode and into horror movie mode in the third act and, though it seems promisingly creepy for a few minutes, becomes a stupid, incoherent mess very soon thereafter.

It's a shame, really, because there is some damn fine acting in this movie. Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Batman Begins), Hiroyuki Sanada (The Last Samurai), Cliff Curtis (Whale Rider, Live Free or Die Hard), and Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) all give convincing and multifaceted performances. Curtis is particularly good as the sun-obsessed ship's doctor. Chris Evans (Fantastic Four) is the unlikely standout here, though. Not only is his character the only one with anything resembling common sense, he also manages to play that character with believable conviction. I promise not to make any further observations about sending the Human Torch on a mission to the sun.

You're probably thinking, "33 out of 50 SPF seems a little high based on this review." Well, I didn't hate Sunshine. It's science fiction, after all, and compared to the vast majority of SF movies, it's well above par. The acting is great and the effects are convincing. The score is very moody and effective. No, mainly I'm irritated that we science fiction fans once again have a movie that could have been so much more than it is, had anyone bothered to think things through and maybe spend an hour or two browsing Wikipedia.

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