cast: Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Michelle Yeoh, Rose Byrne, and Benedict Wong

director: Danny Boyle

107 minutes (15) 2007
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Michael Bunning

Our Sun is dying. The Earth is falling into an endless winter. Humanity is doomed. We have one hope: a giant bomb, the size of Manhattan, being flown into the sun itself by the international crew of the Icarus II.

Danny Boyle is unquestionably a great director. Even his worst movies (A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach) are assured and extremely well helmed films, so it was always going to be a treat to watch his take on the sci-fi genre. When it becomes clear, very early in Sunshine’s running time, that this is a more cerebral take on sci-fi than viewers are usually shown (think Solaris rather than Armageddon); it only increases the anticipation.

That anticipation is well repaid, as Boyle starts strong and builds momentum. The crew, a mix of scientists and astronauts, are deftly brought to life by uniformly good performances from the excellent cast, the subtle and layered script and Boyle’s direction. Tensions are already mounting when the film begins, with the Icarus II entering a ‘dead zone’ where communication with Earth becomes impossible, and those tensions continue to mount when the crew pick up a distress beacon from the Icarus I, a ship that suddenly disappeared when sent eight years earlier to re-ignite the Sun.

For all but half an hour of its length, Sunshine is a cerebral, human drama, exploring the behaviours and psychological tensions of a small group of people in enforced proximity under extremely stressful circumstances. That is it also largely plausible and scientifically accurate only contributes to the excellence of the film. Unfortunately, this is let down a little in the last section, when the movie shifts towards much more typical horror hokum, with an implausible and almost supernatural threat and with the scientific accuracy mostly ignored. At one point, Cillian Murphy’s physicist is told that the minimum time needed to accomplish something is 19 hours, yet less than an hour later (in ‘film-time’ – it’s more like 20 minutes for the viewer) he accomplishes it with no temporal objections.

Luckily, the last half hour is still very watchable, even if it doesn’t match the excellence of the rest of the film, and unless you’re the type of viewer who thinks sci-fi needs gunfights, alien invasions and explosions every few seconds, you’ll be extremely impressed.

The special features on offer here are fantastic too: the disc is chock-full of goodness and the package is better than many multi-disc special editions. There’s an extremely interesting commentary by Dr Brian Cox of the University of Manchester, where you’ll learn, amongst other things, why the Sun is dying and where the script takes liberties with the science; another commentary with Danny Boyle himself; trailers; deleted scenes and production diaries. There’s also the interesting addition of two unrelated short films (apparent favourites of Boyle), which have been included because short films don’t get much exposure and Boyle feels that they should be assisted whenever possible. The films weren’t to my taste, but the mere fact of their inclusion on a mainstream DVD is something to be applauded.

Overall, then, Sunshine is one of the best films of the year, and with a DVD package of matching quality, this disc can’t come recommended highly enough.