The initial premise of Sunshine (2007) – the sun is dying and mankind has put all hope in a desperate effort to reignite our star with a nuclear payload of galactic dimensions – is more fantasy than science fiction, powered by nonsense physics.
An international crew makes the voyage in a magnificent spaceship with a high-tech heat shield that could be an ancient Aztec tribute to the sun god. But in reality they are (in the words of nuclear physicist Cillian Murphy) “Eight astronauts strapped to the back of a bomb. My bomb.”
The scientists and engineers no superheroes and the gravity of their mission puts them under inhuman pressure. Some escape in isolation (pilot Rose Byrne and biologist Michelle Yeoh), some bliss out in the infinity of space (psych officer Cliff Curtis, perhaps in need of counseling himself), and one engineer (Chris Evans, years before he became Captain America) responds with good old American directness: he throws a punch at Murphy.
A bare outline of the plot reads like a space adventure thriller with end-of-the-world stakes and a hint of celestial spirituality, and the third act haunted spaceship twist is pure B-movie madness.
Yet the majesty of director Danny Boyle’s visuals and the dramatic sacrifices of the dedicated of the crew create an experience beyond the dubious science and rickety storyline. The grace and awe and visual scope calls to mind Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey for a new millennium, with echoes of the industrial grunge and crew friction of Alien and the unraveling sanity of Solaris and Dark Star. Combined with the stakes of Alex Garland’s screenplay, it creates a gravity that pulls you in to the immediacy of their ordeal and the gripping urgency off their mission.
You might say that Sunshine sets the controls to the heart of the sun.
Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong, Troy Garity, and Mark Strong costar.
The Blu-ray and DVD features an energetic solo commentary track with director Danny Boyle. The disc also includes 7 deleted scenes/sequences, including an alternative version of the finale and the original coda (shot as a test on consumer cameras), all with optional commentary, as well as numerous Web Production Diaries (all fairly prosaic) and two bonus short films.