| Sunshine is a hard science fiction movie about the second expedition to a failing sun in a desperate effort to “restart” it. Seven years before, a first Icarus expedition was sent to the sun, towing a bomb the size of Manhattan Island in hopes of reigniting it and saving Earth from a slow dark death. The first Icarus spacecraft was lost after traveling beyond the “dead zone,” that region so close to the sun that ionized radiation prevents contact with Earth. Nobody knows why the first attempt failed, but if the second Icarus fails, then the Earth is certainly doomed since both bombs represent almost all the fissionable material on Earth.
A week before I saw Sunshine, I saw it reviewed on Ebert and Roeper. I also read Roger Ebert’s review in the Chicago Sun-Times. Roeper and his guest that night gave Sunshine a thumbs-down. But Roeper made the unusual move of saying that his thumbs down was a reluctant one. Why reluctant? Well, after seeing Sunshine, I think I know.
It is not often that someone these days tries to make an honest to goodness “hard” science fiction movie. Remember those? For some of the younger people reading this review, I’ll be more specific. Hard science fiction movies were mostly those that pre-dated space fantasy like Star Wars, T.V. show tie-ins like Star Trek, or toy and video game tie-ins like Transformers. Many science fiction movies before the eighties were dramatic portrayals of speculative circumstances in which science, real or speculative, played a major role. Many of these pre-Star Wars movies were inspired by fairly well known books or short stories written by impressive authors, and were endowed with a sense-of-wonder. And like many of the classic SF movies of the past, Sunshine tries to bring us that sense-of-wonder and foregoes many of the pop-culture and YA fantasy that is a financial must for this kind of movie in the marketing twenty-first century. Danny Boyle, the director, almost succeeds.
So what’s wrong with Sunshine? Is it the science—no, not because the science makes sense, which it mostly doesn’t in Sunshine—even if Brian Cox was the science advisor. Was it the acting or directing—again no, the acting and directing were reasonably competent even if the actors and director didn’t have much to work with. It must have been the special effects then—well no, the special effects were pretty good, sometimes even spectacular.
The problem was that Mr. Boyle didn’t have a story, he had an idea. Even though the “idea” of creating a story about the sun is intriguing, you have to actually have a story. The fact that Mr. Boyle took his inspired vision of the sun, it’s awesome, unimaginable power, its virtual immortality, and its life giving energy to otherwise dead dark rocks called planets, and with cinematographic talent spun that vision into a story-less movie in the end rendered his heroic efforts mediocre. A reluctant thumbs-down.