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July 25-August 1, 2007

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Photograph by 20th Century-Fox and Dune Entertainment
ALL'S FLARE IN LOVE AND SPACE WARS: Cliff Curtis aims for the nearest star in 'Sunshine.'

Solar Perplexus

'Sunshine' fails to illuminate Danny Boyle's murky ideas about humanity

By Richard von Busack

Even Ray Bradbury couldn't make a classic out of the solar-voyage tale (see his short story "The Golden Apples of the Sun"), and the increasingly incoherent, mucilaginously spiritual space opera Sunshine by Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, et al.) orders you to try to make sense out of it. Oddly, this weird picture—destined to become a cult classic for its visuals—functions most usefully as the usual haunted space-ship horror pic, complete with a hideous sun demon clawing up the cast.

In the near future, the sun has shirked its traditional responsibilities. A ship unluckily named Icarus 2 follows the course of a lost predecessor in hopes of plopping a Manhattan-size atomic bomb in the sun's center. The scenario will make a few scientists squawk, which is why 20th Century-Fox hired astronomer Dr. Brian Cox to mollify them, as well as what's left of the working press. Cox notes that "as yet undiscovered objects could still be flying through the universe today. It is just possible that these objects could cause havoc if they drift into the heart of a star."

A more likely scenario is that the men of the year 2057 will be just as much a pain in the butt as the men of today. Squabbling among the handpicked crew has already broken out; the worst of it goes on between engineer Ace (Chris Evans, a flaming hot-head just as he is in the Fantastic Four movies) and the ship's physicist, Capa (Cillian Murphy, with a gaze as blank and pitiless as the sun). Trying to intervene in the broiling machismo is Cassie (Rose Byrne), whose function aboard the ship is mysterious; press notes describe her as "the other woman in the crew." We also get the obviously sacrificial captain (Hiroyuki Sanada) and the ornery gardener Corazon (Michelle Yeoh), more attuned to her plants than she is to the vile humanity around her. Off they go, getting closer to the sun, shaded behind a mile-wide metal parasol protecting the ship; stuff breaks, the chafed nerves of the gang worsen. Perhaps most disturbing is the ship's doctor (Cliff Curtis), who seems to be reverting to solar worship on the observational deck. And then the signal arrives of the discovery of the hulk of the Icarus 1, which is still in orbit and waiting to be investigated.

Sunshine is inept science fiction, but it has images in its favor: the golden solar eye staring down the crew, the footage chosen for a suicide's last show in the holodeck—a handful of startled birds skittering around a whited-out sky. John Murphy and Underworld's ambient noises on the soundtrack—gas music from Jupiter or something—further recommend this movie to a drug-fancying audience, as does the all-is-one transcendental finale. Boyle and writer Alex Garland touch on today's messes in the no-quarter battle between the religious view of man as dust in the (solar) wind and the idea of humans as the master of their destiny.

Any good ideas Garland has—ideas, that is, besides the ones he harvested from other pictures, such as the blatantly plagiarized sequence from Brian De Palma's Mission to Mars—are quickly undone by Boyle's visual style. He indulges in the usual overcranked attack: quick unreadable cuts, solar flares blinding the lens. Sunshine is full of the stoned insistence that it doesn't matter who is where, what's happening when or where they're all going. Possibly Boyle's scheme is legible during the 20th viewing on home DVD, but on a movie screen it's a botch, unless you're the kind of viewer who, like the hippie in the anecdote, likes to stare at the sun until your retinas fry.

Movie Times SUNSHINE (R; 107 min.), directed by Danny Boyle, written by Alex Garland, photographed by Alwin H. Kuchler and starring Chris Evans and Michelle Yeoh, opens Friday at the Del Mar Theatre in Santa Cruz.

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