Set fifty years in the future Sunshine is the story of eight brave astronauts’ attempts to restart the failing sun. With a nuclear bomb. The size of Manhattan. In a big space ship.
The plucky bunch set off for the sun in their flying space bomb and everything’s going great guns, we learn that Icarus I – the previous mission – failed and that we are now watching the crew of Icarus II, we also learn that no one knows why Icarus I failed its mission. I smell a set up!
As they jet through space we watch them do the usual futuristic space ship things, look at screens, check dials, eat space-food and bicker. Boilerplate space trucker activity that infects every film since Alien in 1979 and also my first problem with Sunshine. I take great exception to the lazy, hackneyed notion of a bickering crew. Whilst it might be believable on a merchant ship or a mining vessel crewed by roughnecks earning their money by putting their lives at risk, this isn’t what the Icarus II is. It’s a scientific vessel, with a vitally important mission.
Before anyone would have been let on board that ship they would have been put through a battery of test to evaluate their psychological suitability for a mission of such immense import. They would have been screened again and again and again, not one trace of susceptibility would have been allowed on that ship or for that matter its forebear; Icarus I. Can you imagine what a disaster Apollo 11’s mission to the moon would have been if Collin’s, Aldrin and Armstrong had been bickering the entire way?
Yet still we see the same predictable nonsense happening here; the crew fight about trivialities, mistakes happen and they tear themselves apart. Hands up who didn’t see that one coming?
This is not the only sci-fi stereotype to be exploited. We have the brave, selfless, stoic captain; the military career man, whose sole priority is the mission; the emotional, tear ridden woman that’s perpetually one step away from a nervous breakdown; the cowardly second in command; the guilt ridden, neurotic, mistake maker; the friendly biologist, who loves plants and loves people; the wacky ship’s doctor and our hero, the mild mannered scientist who discovers a part of himself he didn’t know existed to save the day. All bases are covered, all I think we were missing was a wise cracking robot.
Putting predictability of characterisation to one side, the overriding problem with the film is that it says nothing, either in itself or about the human condition. It plods along, stretching out its 147 minutes into an eternity, yet manages to make no point about anything. Worse still entire chunks of the movie happen for no reason and for no purpose. As an example, in the final reel we learn that there was perhaps a survivor from the Icarus I, yet we are given no idea how they survived and, looking at them, how they continue to survive, nor are we given any clue as to how they managed to move around undetected on board the Icarus II up to this point.
The only reason this villain seems to exist is to create dramatic tension in the dragging final act. Admittedly it’s something the film desperately needed but I can’t help feeling the drama of a dying sun should have been enough to move everything along at a tidy clip.
On a positive note the special effects throughout are outstanding and the acting is decent, if a little stilted, although that could be because of the appalling dialogue. Still, the cast manage to plough on through and pull off believable – if out of place – camaraderie in the first reel but just don’t inject anything extra into the limited material to make you believe they’re on a magnificently important mission or care about them as individuals in any significant way.
All of which leads to a film that’s pleasing to the eyes but not to the intellect, which is a great shame as the eye’s really do get a treat.
As a footnote; no self respecting space agency would ever dream of calling a spaceship, thats sole purpose was to rescue a dying sun, Icarus. Unless of course all these people on board were on a suicide mission and were aware they were on a suicide mission. So doing it in a film is just crass and pointless, simply there to telegraph to the audience the inevitability of the crew’s failure.