"Sunshine" is a movie that offers a wonderful first half, with striking visuals, fine performances and a strong sense of mood. The movie gets to a mid-way point, takes a twist and then proceeds to slowly fall apart (although never crumbles completely.) The film opens 50 years into the future, aboard the ship Icarus II, where the crew - Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada), Harvey (Troy Garity), Capa (Cillian Murphy), Cassie (Rose Byrne), Corazon (Michelle Yeoh), Mace (Chris Evans), Searle (Cliff Curtis), and Trey (Benedict Wong) are on a mission to take a nuclear device to the sun and "re-ignite" the sun, which has gone out and resulted in a perma-frost across the Earth.
The first half of the film is very "Solaris" (or, if one managed to cross "Solaris" with something like "The Core") - very quiet, very dream-like and moody, with a pleasing creepiness and feeling of growing dread. Characters are developed fairly well and the film seems set on being a subtle space drama. The ship's corridors hold a great deal of fascinating sights, such as a virtual reality area, an oxygen garden that is quite beautiful (and quite detailed in its construction) and a rather wild "sun room."
The first half or so of the film has the crew trying to make difficult decisions, repair problems and go about their daily tasks, slowing coming to the realization that their mission may be a one-way journey. When damage does occur that could set back the mission, the crew must decide whether or not to investigate the wreck of the Icarus I, which failed its mission to the sun years ago, and now has shown up on radar, sitting silently not too far away.
While some members of the crew think that it is too much of a risk to sidestrack the mission, it is decided that the crew will go to investigate the ruins of the first Icarus to see if any usable supplies are on-board. While the ship seems deserted, the crew of the Icarus II will soon realize that they are not alone. I won't give away any more of the film's secrets. It's this portion of the film that didn't work as well for me, as it seemed like a version of "Event Horizon" without the supernatural angle. The more aggressive, loud horror style of the second half is also a little disappointing, because it breaks the remarkable mood that the film had built up so wonderfully in the first half.
The performances are generally pretty good, as the film does take steps to at least develop these characters and give many of the actors their chance to shine. Chris Evans, really not required to do all that much heavy lifting (acting-wise) in the "Fantastic Four" movies, actually gives a fairly compelling performance and shows that he's capable of at least a bit more than we've seen from him. Murphy, the subtle actor who was the star of Boyle's "28 Days Later" is a perfect choice for the lead in the movie, as while his style is somewhat withdrawn, it fits with the rest of the film and isn't so underplayed that he fades into the background. Curtis and Byrne are also marvelous in supporting roles.
The other star of the film is the production design, which is just delightful and often feels fresh and imaginative. There's obviously a great attention to detail in the sets and other elements of the film's visuals. Boyle has always had a strong visual style, but this is visually far-and-away his strongest work. And again, I really did like this film a great deal - up to a point. The second half isn't without tense, scary moments, but it really doesn't fit very well with the quiet, interesting and imaginative first half.
VIDEO: "Sunshine" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The screening copy of the film that was provided offered very good image quality, with fine sharpness/detail and only a little bit of artifacting. However, this is still not the final copy and unfortunately, I cannot make any final comments on it, as the retail copy may offer differing image quality.
SOUND: "Sunshine" offers a terrific Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, with a great deal of surround use in order to deliver a variety of subtle (and more creepy, in the second half) effects. The film's sound design isn't always aggressive, but even in the most subtle moments, it does give the viewer a very good sense of space and environment. In the more intense sequences, surrounds flare up and really envelop the viewer in the midst of the action. Audio quality was excellent, with well-recorded effects and crisp, clear dialogue.
EXTRAS: Director Danny Boyle and Brian Cox offer separate commentaries for the film. Brian Cox being not the actor, but the film's technical advisor - a professor from the University of Manchester. Boyle's commentary is excellent, as the director does provide a terrific discussion of the challenges and details of the movie's production. However, I as good as Boyle's commentary was, I have to say that I actually found Cox's commentary a very pleasant surprise. The professor manages to take a discussion about the science of the film and make it the opposite of dry and technical. Cox talks throughout the majority of the film, chatting enthusiastically about the realities of the science within the picture and what is realistic and what is just for the drama of the film. He also points out a couple of scientific errors and provides some really interesting stories and insights in regards to some of the scientific subjects seen within the film. Overall, I really liked both tracks.
We also get 7 deleted or alternate scenes, with optional commentary from Danny Boyle. The first two scenes are multiple shorter moments pieced together. We also get 23 short "web production diary" featurettes, a pair of short films and the trailer.
Final Thoughts: "Sunshine" is a movie with fine performances, imaginative visuals and a very hypnotic, engaging first half. The movie's second half makes a mis-step, and while it is certainly disappointing, it doesn't ruin the whole. While there are some flaws, this is an interesting movie that didn't find its audience theatrically and is worth at least a rent on DVD.
The Film B