The sun is dying. We are not told why. If you worry about that sort of detail, don't go to see this film. A spacecraft carrying a nuclear bomb which might restart the failing star is launched, but disappears. Some years later, a crew of eight, Earth's last best hope, set the controls for the heart of the sun and follow in its wake - but will they succeed?

Sunshine ought to have been amazing. Sure, it's a silly idea, but it's an idea with a great deal of potential, not least visually. Sadly, Danny Boyle, good enough when he's doing his own thing, spends too much time here trying to be Stanley Kubrick, treating us to long drawn-out shots of rotating spacecraft which he just can't pull off with the same magnetic power - where we should be gazing in awe, we find ourselves tapping our feet and waiting for something to happen.

Copy picture

There are plenty of shots of blazing balls of fire and Boyle has made some effort to experiment with different filming techniques to find innovative ways of impressing us with light, but this just doesn't have the impact it should - it's all been done better before and, strangely, more confidently. What should be a big, dramatic, punch-in-the-face piece of art comes across as awkward and self-conscious - until the story all goes horribly wrong, at which point Boyle is back on familiar territory, but then, well, that has its own problems.

So, yes, the story. Eight astronauts and scientists stuck together for several years, millions of miles from home. Encountering their lost predecessor, of course, and then investigating, of course, because such are the demands of the narrative. The early part of this is handled really well. Though they don't all get very much room for development, most of the characters are well played, and Alex Garland's script is refreshing in that it doesn't require any of them to be stupid in order to generate narrative tension.

The problem is that, once one has taken in the rest of the way the film is being set up, the pattern of the conflicts and of focus on different characters, it becomes all too clear what they're being set up for. Boyle was initially unsure about casting Cillian Murphy in this film because he thought he was "too good looking to be a scientist", but as it is he totally exploits those looks (Murphy's character seems to achieve more by making big eyes than by actually being useful; his big important job could be performed by a trained poodle) and pretty soon it's obvious that he's playing Final Girl.

Yes, folks, forget about the promises of hard science fiction or character driven psychological drama - this is a horror movie. It's intelligent and genuinely nerve-wracking until about halfway through, then it suddenly comes over all Event Horizon and that's the end of that. Potentially interesting moral dilemmas are side-stepped in favour of a nasty man (we can tell he's nasty because he's physically deformed) hunting down our heroes on a flimsy pretext which most amateur slasher film makers would be embarrassed by.

Capable actors are thereafter ignored in favour of Murphy (working hard, but without the script to support him) and a flightly teenager named Cassie (Rose Byrne) whose only apparent value to the mission is as its little fluffy windscreen mascot. Cue experimental visuals which create as much unwieldy confusion as genuine atmosphere, and add an ending which makes no logical sense at all. An attempt is made to excuse the latter by claiming that time and space distort as one approaches the sun (Garland has apparently confused it with a black hole and has left out the inconvenient addendum that people distort too, that close, rather like jelly), but it's plot holes, not black holes, which suck this film down until it ultimately collapses under its own weight.

All these things said, Sunshine is still worth a look. Why? Because, simply put, attempts to film science fiction on this scale are few and far between and Boyle almost makes it work in so many ways that it's still fascinating to watch. He's bitten off more than he can chew, but at least he dared to bite, and the result is a film which will make you feel as if you've really experienced something out of the ordinary. One can only hope that he'll learn from his mistakes and that next time he'll take us all the way there.

Reviewed on: 26 Mar 2007
Share this with others on...
Sunshine packshot
Astronauts are sent to try to save earth by reigniting the sun.
Amazon link

Read more Sunshine reviews:

Steve Harwood *****
Chris **1/2

Director: Danny Boyle

Writer: Alex Garland

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, Troy Garity, Cliff Curtis, Hiroyuki Sanada, Mark Strong, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh

Year: 2007

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


Search database:

If you like this, try:

2001: A Space Odyssey
Event Horizon