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Visually stunning sci-fi thriller pushes boundaries

Michelle Fordice | Friday, August 31, 2007

Sensually stunning, suspenseful, and thought-provoking without falling into pomposity, “Sunshine” immerses the viewer in its depths from the instant it begins. Though it seems to have slipped below much of the summer cinema radar, “Sunshine” is a spectacular film that should definitely be caught before it leaves theatres.

In “Sunshine,” an eight-member space crew has set out to re-start the sun, whose death is threatening humanity with extinction. Just after crossing out of contact with Earth, the Icarus-2 begins picking up the distress beacon of their unsuccessful predecessors on the Icarus-1.

After deciding to attempt to board the Icarus-1, the crew suffers an accident that forces them into a fight – not for their lives, but for the life of the human race. This is, of course, an excellent start to a science-fiction thriller, but “Sunshine” offers more than that to its viewers.

Director Danny Boyle, know for his “28 Days Later” and “Trainspotting,” succeeds in expanding the conventions of this genre as he has done with others (like “Millions,” his take on more family-centered film). “Sunshine” remains perfectly balanced on the line between science-fiction and something more, asking questions without boring the audience.

Unlike “Solaris,” a film to which this has often been compared, “Sunshine” is truly suspenseful and enjoyably frightening. Yet, it still tackles questions of God and religion, guilt and responsibility, and how hard humans are willing to struggle for the survival of their species.

“Sunshine” succeeds because it creates realistic characters that the audience can learn to like or sympathize with, and then asks them to sacrifice everything for the demands of a humanity that remains completely abstract. While many space disaster films, from “Deep Impact” to “Armageddon,” continually return to the story back on Earth, “Sunshine” refrains from doing so until the very end, after everything is said and done. Not only does this heighten the movie’s sense of claustrophobia, but it also approaches its issues on a very personal level. The characters are left alone with their beliefs and their dilemma, and nothing more.

“Sunshine” is an absolutely stunning study in contrast. It uses every perspective and sense it can, reveling in vibrancy as much as darkness, strong score as much as silence, and panoramas as much as nearly suffocating close-ups. As a result, simply watching the film is a captivating experience.

Backed by a strong cast that includes Michelle Yeoh and Chris Evans, Cillian Murphy (who has starred movies such as “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” and “Breakfast on Pluto,” but is probably best known for his roles in “Batman Begins” and “Red Eye”) is a wonderful choice for the lead role of Capa in “Sunshine.”

Every cast member does an excellent job of illustrating the multitude of reactions to the situations the crew faces and forcing the audience to sympathize with all of them.

The film is not without its blemishes. Some of the situations feel a bit forced in order to progress the plot – and some of the characters remain somewhat predictably heroic – but, on the whole, “Sunshine” has a strong, uninterrupted storyline.

Most of its faults can be forgiven in order to enjoy the drama they produce. Furthermore, the plotline is kept (within the realm of science-fiction) believable and understandable.

If nothing else, “Sunshine” holds your attention. Because it is suspenseful and exciting, it can be enjoyed on a very basic level. For the more interested viewer it can offer more, and it does so in a way that allows them to contemplate without feeling force-fed philosophy with their popcorn.