Dir. Danny Boyle
Premiered at Bochum March 23, 2007
I don’t remember Sunshine coming out in theaters. I do remember seeing the trailer at the beginning of every Netflix DVD in 2007…and skipping over it. Until recently, when it became a favorable point of comparison with this year’s stillborn space-thriller Life, the only time I’d heard someone talk about it was to say that it was just like an episode of Doctor Who that came out that same summer. I know which episode he was talking about, and it isn’t.
For some reason, the world just kinda missed Danny Boyle’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed 28 Days Later, and since I’ve made a point of seeing every wide-release film from a name director, I gave it a shot, and am quite glad of it.
In the year 2057, Robert Capa (Cillian Murphy) is a physicist onboard the Icarus II. Its mission: to reignite a prematurely dying Sun that has plunged the Earth into a severe ice age by detonating a massive, untested nuclear weapon. The ship’s increasing proximity to the Sun has begun to have a deleterious effect on the crew, hard-nosed engineer (Chris Evans) and the ship’s doctor (Cliff Curtis) who’s becoming gradually more obsessed with the star.
Suddenly, the Icarus II comes across its long-lost predecessor, the Icarus I. Accidents mount in the crew’s attempt to reach their predecessors, difficult decisions are made, and once they arrive, what first appears to be a miraculous discovery– something– may cost the crew their mission, their lives, and the survival of all life on Earth.
In an era that saw science fiction lose relevance in favor of classical fantasy, Sunshine is an utterly engrossing throwback to the darker, spiritually and environmentally themed sci-fi of the 1970s, and in turn feels much like a precursor to cult films like Moon and Beyond the Black Rainbow. What could have been a bloated ensemble piece devotes its 111-minute running time to being one of the darkest– and best– thrillers of 2007 so far, with an overall effect that can only be described as cosmically invigorating.
Signs This Was Made in 2007
While the technology of Sunshine may be futuristic, the aesthetic is emphatically reminiscent of the 2000s, which I rather like. No point in distracting us with pointless knicknacks.
The film has an unexpected connection with my favorite author: Boyle got a feel for visualizing the godlike power of the Sun by reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, at the time his most popular book.
How Did It Do?
Sunshine was originally scheduled to debut in October 2006, but was postponed, likely due to delays in post-production, and went wide in July 2007 after premiering at the Bochum Fantasy Festival. I’ve already seen over a hundred movies for this project, so if it had come out the previous year, I likely would never have seen it. That’s part of what makes 2007 such a great year– it introduces you to some great stuff you wouldn’t have otherwise sought out.
However, Sunshine would have been a better fit for the Halloween season– July 2007 was overcrowded with bigger, more anticipated franchise flicks, and it only made grossed $32 million against a $40 million budget– only $3.7 million of that from the United States, where it was anticipated to make the bulk of its revenue.
However, critics were mostly positive, with a 76% on RottenTomatoes. Some found it boring. A lot of hard sci-fi snobs– I like to imagine Martin Starr’s character in Party Down among them– took issue with the movie becoming a horror flick halfway through, but that’s Danny Boyle for you. A lot of critics classified it as a spiritual sequel to 28 Days Later, which had the same writer, director, and star, right as an actual sequel came out involving none of them.
Sunshine also has a personal legacy for me. A year after first watching it, my girlfriend Minnie, who was a student in Leonard Maltin’s film industry classes at USC, invited me to a pre-screening of this year’s Life. It was shit. The characterization was nonexistent, the monster design unfocused and ugly, everyone goes against their established characters to act as stupid as possible for the sake of plot. We had hauled ass to get there on time, yet watching this third-hand Alien wannabe, all I could think was “Minnie and I should have just watched Sunshine.” That’s how good this movie is. Make sure to turn off the motion smoothing on your TV, and check it out now.
Next Time: Grindhouse