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20th Century Fox presents
Sunshine (2007)

"Our sun is dying. Mankind faces extinction."
- Dr. Robert Capa (Cillian Murphy)

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: January 16, 2008

Stars: Cillian Murphy
Other Stars: Cliff Curtis, Michelle Yeoh, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, Benedict Wong, Troy Garity, Mark Strong
Director: Danny Boyle

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violent content and language
Run Time: 01h:47m:21s
Release Date: January 08, 2008
UPC: 024543444589
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Those well-versed in the peculiar labels that divide genre filmmaking are no doubt aware of the distinction between "hard science-fiction" and "sci-fi." George Lucas makes sci-fi movies about wizards with laser swords and planes dogfighting in space. Stanley Kubrick makes forward-looking fare that imagines what the world might really be like in 2001. Director Danny Boyle definitely has hard science-fiction on the brain with Sunshine, a genre entry that strives for as much accuracy as possible in, you know, telling the story of how a crew of scientists plan to re-start our dying sun using a stellar bomb the size of Manhattan (not be be confused with the asteroid the size of Manhattan that threatened to end all human life in Armageddon, a good example of the other kind of sci-fi, in that it's only slightly less realistic than Star Wars).

Boyle's film is shoots for a spot next to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner in the realm of serious science-fiction. An original story cooked up by Boyle and frequent collaborator Alex Garland (writer of 28 Days Later), it takes place 50 years in the future, when humanity is on the brink of extinction as the sun threatens to burn out in short order. A ship called the Icarus left seven years before the film begins on a mission to drop a bomb into the massive star, a mission that has evidently failed. We open on the Icarus II, already well into its years-long journey. It's a rather bulky craft, reminiscent of a submarine, designed for the way such a ship would actually have to function.

The crew is a multi-ethic mishmash of Earth's finest minds: scientist Capa (Cillian Murphy), the bomb expert; stoic Captain Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada); eccentric ship psychologist Dr. Searle (Cliff Curtis), who favors a good sunbath now and then; botanist Corazon (Michelle Yeoh), who tends the garden that provides the crew with air to breathe; and all-American hero Mace (Chris Evans). The characters are all underplayed, with jobs to do instead of quirky personalities, and that we don't get to know them very well doesn't really put the movie at fault (the effects of long-term space travel on their emotional well-being is a theme allowed to play out with some subtlety... for a while, anyway). Their single-minded focus is the mission, and considering the enormity of the task they are up against, we can't blame them. Nevertheless, they're a likeable bunch, with strong performances all around, particularly from Evans, who shows a charisma put to ill use in the Fantastic Four films.

Disaster strikes when the crew detects the distress signal of the Icarus I, thought lost, and diverts to investigate, reasoning that two bombs are better than one when all of existence is at stake. Changing course results in one mechanical disaster after another, and the dangerous efforts to repair them are carried out in painstaking detail; for the majority of its running time, Sunshine wins points over the typical sci-fi film by milking drama and tension out of events as mundane as human error and mechanical failure rather than invading aliens. In the third act, which might seem like an abrupt change of pace but really dovetails quite nicely with the overall theme (the hubris of man plays a part, if the ship's name didn't tip you off), the threats become a bit more conventional, but by then we've already witnessed several of the most suspenseful sequences in a film in recent memory.

Sunshine strives for originality, but that's a tough thing to do in science-fiction when you are also striving for realism. It comes off as a well-polished amalgam of familiar tropes and character types, but succeeds in layering in metaphysical musings on the conflict between science and religion, blending them with a reserved visual style to haunting effect. This is one of the most beautiful science-fiction films ever made, with a synthesis of music (from composer John Murphy and the band Underworld) and special effects every bit as memorable as the marriage of monkeys and Richard Strauss. Views of the sun from up close cast a spell over the characters and the audience; the insignificance of man when matched with the natural course of the universe is a key theme carried through the design; each special effects sequence favors narrative substance over needless flash.

Despite its third act wanderings, one of my favorite films of the year.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: A bit less than stellar, which is a disappointment considering the beautiful special effects on display. The biggest problem is a graininess brought on by extensive compression, visible in darker sequences, and there are a lot of them in a space movie, as you might imagine. Otherwise, I noted no edge enhancement or artifacting. These problems might not exist in the retail copy; Fox only provides screeners for review purposes. Regardless, this is a movie you'll want to buy in high definition, if you've got the option.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The audio track is good, if not as robust as you might expect for a space thriller. The score comes out the winner—the haunting music is rich and full, with heavy support from the rear channels. The sound effects are flashy, with good directionality across the front channels, but not a lot of prominent rear channel use. The dialogue is also a little muted at times, resulting in a few lunges for the remote to turn up the sound for the talking and turn it down when the score started blaring.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Wrong Turn 2, 28 Days Later, The Hills Have Eyes 2
11 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
23 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Danny Boyle; science advisor Dr. Brian Cox
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Short films
Extras Review: A nice collection of features here—the menu selections make it look rather anemic but there's quite a bit to go through, starting with two feature commentary tracks. The first is from director Danny Boyle, who provides an interesting discussion of the film's origins as "realistic" science-fiction and the arduous task of filming a big-budget sci-fi piece. He's an engaging, if somewhat reserved, speaker. On the other track, science advisor Dr. Brian Cox goes into great detail pointing out the factual (or rather, theoretical) basis for a lot of the stuff on display, from suns dying to those funny-looking space suits. A lot more entertaining than it sounds—this guy knows his stuff, and can talk about it in an entertaining, accessible way. Boyle also provides commentary for seven deleted scenes (around 13 minutes of footage), including a sappy alternate ending that reveals the continued use of the Sony PSP in 2057.

The bulk of the bonuses come in the form of 23 web production featurettes (38m:29s), that offer brief, if fairly illuminating, insights on the casting, special effects, characters, and real science behind the movie. The pieces use a combination of interviews and on-set footage, and feature a lot of the behind-the-scenes crew. My favorite focuses on the voice of the Icarus II, the future's sexiest-sounding spaceship, or something. Due to their format, these pieces are less comprehensive than a traditional making of piece, but still worth a look.

The final extras are a bit of a random inclusion: two short films with an audio introduction from Boyle, who says he wanted to give them a platform, as he likes them and otherwise they could never be seen (uh, youtube?). Anyway, I'd hazard a guess that he likes Dad's Dead because the director, Chris Shepherd, is doing an obvious Danny Boyle impression with a riff on a child's very bad friend. The other, Mole Hills, directed by Dan Arnold, is likely here because Arnold worked on Sunshine. Because otherwise, it's just an endless static shot of some unmoving, unchanging mounds of dirt.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Despite a third act plot twist that veers the film into an entirely different cinematic landscape, Sunshine is genre porn for hard sci-fi nerds, and as close to realistic a movie about a mission to reignite the sun with a giant bomb as we're likely to see. It's a space movie with special effects that actually offer something you haven't seen before and some metaphysical musings that might actually make you think between those thrilling suspense setpieces. Fox's DVD is decent, but this is one that will make you pine for a Blu-ray player.


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