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Sunshine (2007)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 1/8/2008

All Ratings out of
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/3/2008

I do quite a bit of cooking, but I will always consider myself an amateur cook because I make very simple meals. The only time that I feel like a "chef" is when I make stir-fry (or what I call stir-fry). I enjoy this because I put a lot of my favorite ingredients into a pan and simply create. I got the feeling that director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland were doing something similar with Sunshine, a science-fiction film which takes bits and pieces from many other sci-fi films and attempts to create the ultimate outer space film.

Sunshine is set 50 years in the future where the Sun has begun to die. This has lead to a "solar winter" on Earth. A spaceship called Icarus was launched into space with a bomb which was to be used to re-start the Sun. However, contact with the ship was lost and the problem wasn't solved. So, seven years later, the Icarus II is sent towards the sun. We join the crew of the Icarus II as they are about to pass Mercury on their way to the Sun. Captain Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada), Dr. Searle (Cliff Curtis), Capa (Cillian Murphy), Corazon (Michelle Yeoh), Cassie (Rose Byrne), Trey (Benedict Wong), Harvey (Troy Garity), and Mace (Chris Evans) have been in space together for 16 months and they are growing somewhat edgy and bored with their trip. But, they know that they are on a noble mission and attempt to overcome any personal differences. However, as they grow closer to the Sun, they come across a mystery which causes Icarus II to go off course. This will lead to a series of mishaps which throw the entire mission into jeopardy and cause the crew to fight for their lives.

If you've never seen a science-fiction movie which deals with Earthlings traveling through space, then you may love Sunshine. But, if you are merely an average movie fan, then you will have seen at least one of the movies from which this movie borrows very heavily, and you will have to question its intentions. Sci-fi fans will be scratching their heads over this one.

I don't enjoy using the term "rip-off", but many of the plot elements in Sunshine go far beyond homage. I'll break down some of the points in the film which jumped out at me. The fact that a spaceship was sent to do a mission and "disappeared" is reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010: The Year We Make Contact. The entire look of the ship and the fact that we first see the entire crew having a meal comes from Alien. The somewhat dreamlike quality of the film is not unlike Solaris. While it doesn't necessarily fall into the hard sci-fi category, the idea of a crew going into space to save the Earth made me think of Armageddon. And I don't want to give anything away here, but much of the second half of the movie feels very similar to Event Horizon. (Which, oddly enough, is a movie that many people hate.) One item which is definitely a homage arises when we learn that the captain of Icarus was Pinbacker, which is a reference to John Carpenter's Dark Star, where the captain was named Pinback. The movie also contains some stereotypical elements of the space movie, such as the characters being forced to go outside of the ship to do a repair, the on-board computer which talks to the crew, and an airlock problem.

So, Sunshine scores a big zero in the originality department, and this is somewhat surprising considering that Boyle and Garland are often celebrated for their unique visions. For example, 28 Days Later contained many elements of other films, but the fact that Boyle chose to shoot it on video and the idea that the infected were very fast and vicious did set the movie apart from others. But, the story in Sunshine seems to be going out of its way to look like every other space movie ever made.

If you can look past all of that, Sunshine still impresses on several levels. I'm not always impressed with Danny Boyle's storytelling abilities, but there's no questioning his talent for shooting visually interesting films, and Sunshine is no exception. The movie has a very slick look and Boyle has found some new ways to shoot some familiar scenes. The last act of the movie contains some very interesting shots and the visuals go along way to advance the story. There's a nice notion here that at least one character has become obsessed with the sun and there are some neat shots of eyes watching the sun. The special effects are very good and the design of the Icarus II is quite good. The movie boasts a good cast and their diverse looks adds to the realism of the story. The best part of Sunshine is the plot twist which occurs at the 73-minute mark. This part of the script is worthy of any classic psychological thriller and really packs a wallop. I'm not here to defend Boyle and Garland, but I can't help but wonder if they made so much of the movie overly familiar solely for the twist to be more shocking.

If you haven't gotten the impression yet, I'll say it: Sunshine is an odd movie. This is a $50 million science-fiction movie which looks almost exactly like many other sci-fi films which have come before it. So, who was it made for? It's probably too dark and bleak for a mainstream audience and die-hard sci-fi fans may scoff at the movie's lack of originality. Despite all of that, Sunshine is mesmerizing at times and, again, the plot twist in the final act will make viewers who have gotten that far sit up and take notice. Given the diversity of their past projects, one can't knock Boyle and Garland for making a science-fiction movie, but one can't help but wonder why they didn't come up with a more original story.

Sunshine glows on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very good, especially considering that I was viewing a preview disc. The picture is very sharp and clear, showing very little grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look good, and the dark scenes in the latter half of the film don't hide the action. I did notice some edge-enhancement here, but I'm not sure if this will be present on the final product. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track offers some fantastic audio effects. We get the roar of the engines on Icarus II which fill the speakers and exercise the subwoofer. There is also a great deal of surround sound and stereo effects inside the ship where there are always a multitude of sounds.

The Sunshine DVD contains a galaxy of bonus features. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from director Danny Boyle. This is a good talk as Boyle is very enthusiastic and gives a great deal of detail about the making of the film. He touches on the technical elements of the production, while also commenting on the actors and the story. He acknowledges that the movie is similar to many other films, but never really talks about how intentional that was. Next is a second AUDIO COMMENTARY featuring Dr. Brian Cox from The University of Manchester. As one could imagine, this track is somewhat dry, as Cox discusses the realities of the film and gets over-indulgent in details about the Sun and space travel. The DVD has 7 DELETED SCENES, which can be viewed with optional commentary by Boyle and run about 19 minutes. One of these is a montage of scenes showing daily life on-board the ship. Most of these were clearly cut for pacing, but one in particular should have been left in the finished film because it answered a question that I had about one of the trips taken outside of the ship. Instead of getting a true "making of" featurette, we get 23 "Web Production Diaries" which, in total, run for nearly an hour. These pieces alternate between profiling the actors and examining specific facets of the filmmaking process, such as stuntwork, visual effects, and the science behind the film. These pieces are loaded with cast and crew comments, as well as behind-the-scenes footage. "Short Films" are simply two short films, Dad's Dead (7 minutes) and Mole Hills (6 minutes), both of which aren't really connected to Sunshine, but rather they are simply two movies that Danny Boyle wanted everyone to see. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for Sunshine.

Fox has also brought Sunshine to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is 1080p HD AVC. The box claims that the transfer runs at 16 Mbps, but I noted that it hovered around 23 for much of the movie. The picture here is incredibly sharp and clear. Simply go to any scene which takes place in the all-white airlock and you'll see that there is absolutely no grain to be had here. The picture shows no artifacting or noise and the colors are brilliant. This film looks especially good, as the outer space scene shows a great amount of depth. The disc has both a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track and a DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless track. The Dolby track is very similar to the one found on the DVD. The DTS track runs at 48 kHz and 1.5 Mbps. The track provides a very smooth audio experience, as the audio is very clear. The bass and surround sound effects are impressive and the dialogue is always clear. The latter half of the film features many scenes where the audio really helps the film.

The extras on the Sunshine Blu-ray Disc are identical to those found on the DVD, except for two additions. Sunshine is the first Blu-ray release from Fox to take advantage of Profile 1.1 technology and these two features both utilize this. "A Brilliant Vision: Enhanced Viewing Mode with the Filmmakers of Sunshine" takes advantage of the picture-in-picture capabilities of 1.1. Essentially (as I understand it), the player can now stream two video signals from the disc. Watching the film in this mode, we are treated to 10 segments which pop up in the lower left hand corner of the screen to give us behind-the-scenes information on the part of the film which we are watching. For those who don't have a 1.1 equipped player, these 10 segments can be watched by themselves, and total 17 minutes. The other bonus feature is called "Journey into Sound: Surround Sound Enhancement". This also requires 1.1 and a 5.1 surround sound system. With this, the viewer can choose from four scenes and manipulate the audio through the 5 main channels to experience what it would be like if certain dialogue was coming from another part of the viewing space.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long