When you hear a movie described as a "pastiche," it's usually not a compliment. That's what a film critic says when he watches a new movie-- only to have his brain flooded by memories of a dozen other (usually better) movies. Sometimes screenwriters just treat the video store like a Chinese menu and pluck a little from shelf A, a lot from shelf B, and everything else from the Spielberg section.
But in the case of Alex Garland and Danny Boyle's "Sunshine," I didn't mind all the sampling so much. It's as if the frequent collaborators ("Trainspotting," "28 Days Later") decided it was time to finally tackle a big, flashy science-fiction adventure, and so they dusted off a semi-original plot and infused it with their favorite scenes, characters, and themes from the classics of the genre. Some call it homage, some say rip-off, but I kept a mental checklist while enjoying the heck out of "Sunshine," and I say it deserves to be mentioned alongside many of the films it "borrows" from.
The plot is surface-simple yet sci-fi-speculative: Some time in the near future our sun will threaten to peter out, and we will need a mega-brilliant team of adventurers to leap into outer space, provide a jump start for the waning star, and (somehow) make it back home for maybe a nice day at the beach. Needless to say, just about everything that can go wrong with the mission ... does. So if you're settling in to "Sunshine" expecting the most unique and original science fiction adventure you've ever seen, you just might be disappointed.
And I say "might" because, despite its near-constant homage to earlier sci-fi stories, "Sunshine" manages to blaze just enough of its own trail to earn mention alongside the big boys. Serious fans of the genre will no doubt be reminded of "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Solaris," "Alien," "Blade Runner," "Deep Impact," "Contact," and even a (probably inadvertent) dose of "Event Horizon." So while the flick might present a "salad bar" of sci-fi influences ... I have no problem whatsoever with a well-delivered and tasty salad bar.
The cast is strong throughout, although stand-outs include Chris Evans, Michelle Yeoh, and (as usual) Cillian Murphy. Boyle and company start out with a smoothly claustrophobic space adventure, take a dark right turn into disaster territory, and end up squarely in a dark-hued horror story. Plus the movie's gorgeous to look at, bolstered by an excellent John Murphy / Underworld score, and (like all good science fiction, "original" or not) it closes its story with a few unanswered questions and a couple of fascinating answers. It's just simple, slick, smart, dark sci-fi from a director who has slowly become of the most consistent filmmakers out there. Most folks won't discover this one until DVD, but I bet "Sunshine" ends up as a cult-type flick somewhere down the road.