Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bright Sunshiny Day

What's better than a hotly anticipated blockbuster? How about the little film you've never even heard of that turns out to be deeply awesome. Thanks to the magic of DVR, I saw this movie called Sunshine the other day. Have you heard of it? I'm usually pretty tuned in to what's coming out in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, so I'm surprised this one slipped past me.

The Premise: The sun is dying. A team of astronauts are being sent with a payload including all the fissile materials left on earth to set off a nuclear bomb inside the sun, therefore "restarting" it.

On hearing that, I rolled my eyes, visualizing some ridiculous, campy, disaster film like The Core. Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered Sunshine is a very different sort of movie altogether. A nuanced sci-fi character drama. Subtle, smart and electric.

The first clue that I was getting something more than just camp was the name of the spaceship. Icarus II. What I loved was the fact that they didn't insult the viewer's intelligence by over-explaining the significance of the name. They simply stated that the first Icarus mission had failed. It had gotten too close to the sun, beyond the range of communication, and they'd never heard from it again. So Icarus II was the second desperate attempt at what was already a risky proposal.

And Icarus? The boy of mythic wax-winged fame, who flew too close to the sun, melted his wings and fell to his death? What better name could there be for a mission whose basic premise is the hubris of overruling nature by restarting the sun?

The story opens right before our intrepid astronauts are about to leave communication range with Earth. They know these will be the last messages they send and the odds of their safe return are variable. They will likely never receive a response for the messages they are about to send (though they still believe there is a chance they will make it back to Earth after completing their mission).

It is the characters who truly make this story sing. The psychologist who gets his kicks by staring in to the sun (through a shield, of course) and walks through the entire film sunburned. The crew member who's slightest mistake can turn into a suicide risk, when viewed through the filter of the salvation of all of mankind. The pressure bearing down on this team is phenomenal. They are brilliant, picked for this mission for their knowledge of astrophysics, nuclear physics, or astronavigation, but they are human, with the weight of all humanity resting on them.

The immortality of youth is faced with the hard realities of hard choices in the face of true species extinction. A god complex, a hero complex, and an unholy terror at the idea of failure all rolled into one.

I have to recommend this intricate and well thought out sci-fi character drama about the seemingly ridiculous idea of restarting the sun. Yeah, it gets a little... odd in the last half hour, taking an unexpected turn in a more thriller direction, but all in all, Sunshine was some pretty rockin' sci fi. An unexpected treat.

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