film response: Sunshine

Last updated on November 22nd, 2023 at 12:54 pm

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Directed by Danny Boyle
1h 47min, United Kingdom | United States, 2007

I prefer Garland’s work here in Sunshine over Annihilation and Ex Machina

I won’t equivocate: Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is the most satisfying hard sci-fi movie I’ve seen in years. Despite the fact that the narrative arc, and a lot of the plot schematics and details, are creatively cribbed from other movies — Boyle admits this himself in the commentary — 2001 and Alien mostly, it still felt fresh and exciting.

Alex Garland’s fills the script with memorable dialogue, believable scientist and astronaut characters and a deft mixture of science, philosophy and metaphysics, without being heavy-handed about any of those. Mostly, however, it’s a wonder to look at:

I’ve created a bunch of screen grabs with Jing, a nifty, cross-platform, always-on application that also doubles as a screen casting program, and whose logo appropriately centers around the sun.

These don’t represent the best shots in the film. The camera is often moving and some of the most beautiful sequences are of the virtual camera gliding across spacescapes and the outside of the ship, the Ikarus II, probably a reference to the lost-but-now-found ravishing, B&W, Czech sci-fi classic, Ikarie XB 1.

As you can tell, I like the look of this film a lot. The cinematography is by Alwin H. Kuchler. The only other movie he’s shot that I’m familiar with is Morvern Callar, in which he also made great use of landscape and human close-ups.

In Sunshine, his traditional cinematography integrates beautifully with the CGI sequences, which are some of the most affecting digital creations I’ve ever seen in a film. Awe-inspiring, particularly the crew’s first view of Mercury as it glides across the glowing disc of the sun.

The primary visual motif is obviously circles, disks, and the sun. However, just as often, reflections, mirrors, windows, viewports. The last shot shows the ship’s physicist reaching out a hand and looking into a wall of fire about to collide with the man-made technology at his back.

What does he see? A question asked at least twice before. We never really know, but I felt the power of that question each time.

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