Magazine article The Spectator

Star Quality

Magazine article The Spectator

Star Quality

Article excerpt

Sunshine 15, selected cinemas

The plot of Sunshine does not inspire confidence. A band of eight astronauts aboard the Icarus II must deliver a bomb to the centre of the dying Sun to reignite it. They come across the ship belonging to an earlier, abortive attempt, but the discovery turns out to be more perilous than provident as they struggle to secure mankind's future. One wonders if the writer Alex Garland was fully aware of the similarities with bloated deep-space junk like Armageddon and Event Horizon, but fortunately such comparisons recede rapidly. The truth is that such details as storyline are not as important to Sunshine as its visual and psychological elements; indeed, the twist is more of a distraction than a boost to the heart of the story by the time it comes.

Director Danny Boyle, working again with regular collaborators Garland and producer Andrew Macdonald, has the sense not to let plot impede the true essence of his films. The lovingly rendered visuals make the film's aesthetic central, but even more crucial proves the lean, steady pacing of the narrative. Cod philosophy and scattergun sentimentality are eschewed in favour of suspense, while the crew's immense struggle is made all the more involving by being allowed to speak for itself. The way decisions are made is particularly refreshing: there is no time for grandstanding and democratic discussion on such a mission, so all is dictated by a ruthless logic. As the characters say more than once, what are moral arguments about the worth of an individual when weighed against the prospect of the species' extinction? The battering of tragedy that the crew endures generates a real sense of pathos, noticeably absent from most Hollywood outings to the stars. These characters are a far cry from invulnerable heroes -- they bleed when they're injured, they get scared, they make mistakes. But rather than realism, it is the three-dimensional horror evoked when things go wrong in such a hostile environment that engages the viewer.

Space is an undeniably cinematic setting.

Ever since vessels and astronauts pirouetted their way through the blackness of 2001: A Space Odyssey, filmmakers have been drawn to such an innately dramatic canvas. For Boyle, the lurking presence of Kubrick, Ridley Scott (Alien) and co. in the background of the science-fiction and space epic genres is problematic. Much of the paraphernalia is now so familiar -- banks of graphic-laden gadgets, a ship's computer made eerie by virtue of its disembodied humanity, oxygen difficulties -- that Sunshine is unable to avoid a certain number of clichés. …

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