December 25, 2007

"Sunshine"

Here's my full review from last summer in The American Conservative of the sci-fi movie:

On May 28, 1942, the U.S.S. Yorktown aircraft carrier, badly damaged at the Battle of the Coral Sea, squeezed into a Pearl Harbor dry dock needing an estimated 90 days of repair. But with four Japanese carriers steaming toward Midway Island, 1400 repairman swarmed over her, using so much electricity that Honolulu had to be partially blacked out. Two days later, the Yorktown sailed off to the decisive battle of the War in the Pacific.

On January 16, 2003, a chunk of foam broke off the Space Shuttle Columbia during liftoff. NASA engineers asked their managers to have a spy satellite scope out the damage, but the higher-ups assumed, wrongly, that America couldn't improvise a repair or rescue during the 30 days the crew could survive in orbit; so why bother? Two weeks later, the Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry.

During the golden age of science fiction in the middle of the 20th Century, the predominant plot -- the space voyage -- was essentially an updated sea story. (It's no coincidence that the greatest American science fiction writer, Robert A. Heinlein, who was born 100 years ago this summer, was an invalided U.S. naval officer.) Classic "hard" science fiction reflected the can-do culture of an era exemplified by the Yorktown repairs and going to the Moon in eight years.

We now live in a can't-do age, when merely building a fence along the border strikes our leaders as perhaps beyond our nation's capabilities.

"Sunshine" is a medium budget ($40 million) science fiction thriller with art house pretensions about eight astronauts on a last-chance-for-mankind mission to reignite the dying Sun with a "stellar bomb" the size of Manhattan. The movie falls uncomfortably between the grand heroism of the old sci-fi and the petty self-absorption of our reality television shows.

Granted, the physics of the premise are unworkable -- for one thing, it takes a half million years for light to jostle its way out from the dense solar core to the surface, so by the time we noticed anything was wrong with the Sun, it would be too late -- but, some of the film's conceptions of how much the freezing folks back on Earth could do if they had to are thrillingly old-fashioned. For instance, this bomb is humanity's final hope because "all the fissile material on Earth has been mined" to make it.

On the other hand, by 2057 NASA appears to have delegated personnel selection to a TV network. The crewmembers of Icarus II look great but display all the competence, cohesiveness, and cool-headedness of a losing tribe on Survivor. With the oxygen running out, they sit and debate whether it's morally justified to kill one person to save the entire species (uh, yup). "Sunshine" isn't quite as inane as last year's apocalyptic "Children of Men," which kept getting distracted from its plot about saving humanity from extinction to protest the plight of illegal immigrants, but it's close.

Only the crewcut engineer (Chris Evans, the Human Torch in "Fantastic Four") has the fighter jock personality you need when a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. As Murphy's Law sets in with a vengeance, he has the Right Stuff to lead his squabbling, dithering colleagues, such as the pretty-boy physicist (played by Cillian Murphy), who, for unexplained reasons, is the only one trained to set off the detonation.

"Sunshine" reunites Murphy with director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland. Together, they revived the zombie genre with 2002's "28 Days Later." Many critics are praising the derivative "Sunshine," presumably because it's fun for cineastes to play "Spot the Influence" of space and submarine classics such as "2001," "Solaris," "Alien," and "Das Boot."

In contrast, sci-fi fans will find their intelligence insulted by the careless plotting. In last year's "Thank You for Smoking," a tobacco lobbyist and a Hollywood agent conspire to have the heroes of an upcoming sci-fi blockbuster smoke in space:

Nick Naylor: "But wouldn't they blow up in an all-oxygen environment?"


Jeff Megall: "Probably. But it's an easy fix. One line of dialogue. 'Thank God we invented the... you know, whatever device.'"

The makers of "Sunshine," though, just don't care enough about science fiction to hire a script doctor to make the easy fixes.

"Sunshine," like too many films theses days, ends up being just another movie about movies, which "2001," for all its pompous flaws, definitely was not.

Rated R for violent content and language.


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Always refreshing to find someone else who can spot the dimwittery behind the "pretty" in poor, dumb "Sunshine." I re-watched "Alien" recently, after having seen "Sunshine"; trust me, Boyle and Garland's rip-off-- erm, opus-- doesn't look any brighter by comparison in the rearview mirror, if you get my drift....

Stuart said...

Nice review.

Your ability to work immigration into your writing is relentlessly impressive.

Anonymous said...

Great review Steve. It is depressing how our can-do spirit is dissipating.
I see you mentioned Children of Men. Did you ever review it? I hated that movie.

Mark said...

That "Thank You for Smoking Line" loses something in the translation. Aaron Eckhart's hand gestures give it all it's humor:

It's right near the end.

The great state of Wisconsin will not apologize for its cheese.

"Thank You for Smoking"
"Idiocracy"

What sorts of movies, I wonder, do Sailerites tend to (uniquely) watch? I'd guess that "Thank You for Smoking" and "Idiocracy" are at least two of them.

Anonymous said...

Danny Boyle seems to throw logic out the window whenever he dips his toe into sci fi. The ridiculously overpraised "28 Days Later," is the same way. The epidemiology of the rage virus that wipes out Britain is just ridiculous-- it acts on victims so fast that it would burn itself out before it could travel far, and be fairly easy to quarantine-- the same reason why the scary Ebola virus never makes it out of sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, it was tough for me to enjoy the decent camerawork and performances, because the premise was inherently dishonest-- and that was before the second half baldy ripped off Romero's "Day of the Dead," with it's crazed military men and semidomesticated zombie.