Every time I see one of Danny Boyle's films, it reminds of what a fantastic, but more importantly, essential, director he really is. Not only does he always bring something worthwhile to the table, but he jumps and bends from genre to genre so effortlessly that I'm staggered each and every time. I mean, from cult drug film with Trainspotting to horror with 28 Days Later to a children's movie with Millions, he consistently reinvents any genre he touches. When I heard he was bringing his talents to sci-fi with some mumbo jumbo reminiscent of The Core, I was more than skeptical. Shame on me. Not only did Sunshine blind side me and outdo my expectations completely, but it really adds another feather in the cap to the steadily improving state of science fiction in modern film. After The Fountain and Children of Men, Sunshine looks like the piece to cement a new golden age for sci-fi, and it's more than welcome. It's refreshing to see the genre back where it belongs, really questioning the nature of humanity, as well as our place in the universe. Boyle has called the film his statement on mankind's fragility, and he couldn't have done it better. (well, maybe a little, let's discuss, shall we?)
The reception this film is getting may be one of its more interesting aspects (or at least it would be if the film weren't so damn interesting on its own already), at this point I think I've seen it from just about every point on the spectrum. Some people in my theater got up and left, I heard another remark on the way out that it was one of the worst movies someone had ever seen (apparently they haven't been to the movies much this summer), I heard yet another extremely positive reaction, critics are more or less divided. The one thing that keeps coming up again and again is something I feel I should probably touch upon at one point or another as a warning. Now seems like as good a time as any to do it. The biggest problem that people seem to have is one seemingly outlandish plot development that happens at the beginning of the third act. More or less, if you aren't on board with the film through that development, you will probably hate it. There's no point in discussing it now, you'll know it when you see it. I, obviously, was in the camp who not only accepted this development, but actually loved it. To be honest, I wasn't feeling the film's first half all that much. For the first act or two we're kept in pretty standard sci-fi territory before a lot of the philosophical undertones are brought to the forefront. The plotting is choppy at best and the character development and relationships are almost nil. If you absolutely require characters you can "care about" to follow a movie, you may be disappointed. It's a sci-fi film in space that starts off with a fairly large cast; it's not spoiling anything to say that a few of them die. You won't care. I sure as hell didn't. But, to me, the film never behaved as though we should anyway. Just like Boyle, the characters put their mission before everything, as should we. Boyle's mission is to give us something to chew on while bending a lot of the concepts and themes of sci-fi in new and interesting ways. He succeeds in spades. The film's second half is a triumph, it's so great to actually see a film that improves as it moves through its runtime, when so often this summer it has been the other way around. The film's finale is daring, innovative and has the courage not to try and explain itself away with superfluous details. Smart decision Danny, though for the record I had an even more abstract explanation cooked up that I sort of wish you'd have let me continue to delude myself into thinking was the real story. Oh well. The film begins to touch on a sort of mythic quality that the sun has, and as the source of life on Earth, it's definitely true. Well-placed visual references are made to the way in which strong sunlight literally imprints a picture in our vision for those few seconds when we shut our eyes; it's a concept I wish had been taken further, though I didn't think the film would go near things like at all so it was an added bonus. (as a hint for those who've seen the flick, think along those lines for my explanation of that "development"). By the time the film's final ten minutes arrive, I'm in cinematic heaven; there's nothing cooler than existential sci-fi, except maybe sci-fi horror, which we're also allowed to indulge in.
As we move into the sun we're told that time and space will bend. You can get an idea of how cool this flick turns out to be. When it comes right down to it, even if Boyle wasn't working with anything intelligent, his mastery of tone throughout the second half, as well as his extremely innovative visuals, would have kept this thing certified no matter what. I can't compliment the man's direction enough as it really is one of the film's most interesting aspects. The visuals will floor you in some scenes, and with the extremely effective sound design, you'll be lost in this film's world for the entire climax. Halfway through the film you may be wondering if it was essential to see it in a theater. By the time it ends you will have that question answered. Oh yes, it is definitely essential. See this thing now before it's gone. Not only is Fox doing it a real disservice by releasing it in such a small amount of theaters, but the film itself is simply not commercially viable. I doubt we'll be seeing this thing turning much of a profit, no matter how many theaters it gets released in. But, I stress it again, if it's out anywhere near you, see it asap. Okay, now let me get back to praising those awesome visuals. Not only does Boyle use CGI very very effectively, but his practical effects and simple camera tricks do wonders. This world was created using the camera settings and not too much more. The sets are good for when he needs them, but mostly we never get a truly "clear" look at our world as any other director would show it to us. Part of the reason that development I mentioned works is because his camera refuses to shoot it in any way that wouldn't make it an awesomely tense. Blurs, out-of-focus shots, and all manner of shimmers and glimmers of light obstructing our view are used as Boyle the artist paints his technological canvas into something worthy of framing. Just as our characters are drawn to the beauty of the sun, so are we. The script is the only aspect of the film I feel deserves some criticism. The first half is actually very choppy, and switching around a few plot points here and there would have done wonders. There are a lot of story developments that happen in a series of three or four small back-and-forth developments that would have been ten times as effective and dramatically weighted if they were done as one single event. It almost seemed that Boyle was trying to drain as much drama and intensity out of the picture as he could for the first half, possibly to mimic the coldness of space, whereas one we get closer to the vibrant sun the picture's tempo and atmosphere rapidly pick up? Maybe I'm reading too far into some bad decisions followed by good ones? Whatever happened, the film turned out sweet as hell.