'Sunshine' - DVD Review


The last time I saw Danny Boyle's Sunshine was quite some time ago, but the memory of the movie has sorta gotten stuck in my brain-banks. Not because I think it's some sort of mega-classic, but the flick just works for me. After discussing and dissecting the flick with some equally geektastic friends, I was quite excited to give the movie a second spin by way of DVD -- just to see if any of their complaints held water, or hey, maybe I'd like the movie even more! But, as usual, let's re-cap what I said when the flick hit theaters:

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's 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 finally time to tackle a big, flashy science-fiction adventure, and so they dusted off a halfway-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 and 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.

So fresh from a second viewing ... and my opinion is pretty much the same! Most of the gripes I've heard about the flick have to do with the movie's sudden shifts in not tone but genre, and though I can't say much more without spoiling the surprises, I can say that those complaints are pretty valid -- even if the movie's intermittently schizophrenic tendencies didn't bother me all that much. Something else the DVD reminded me of: the stellar special effects and the fantastic musical score. Building blocks like those start to add up when you're tallying a flick's overall worth. So while it's (certainly) not among Danny Boyle's most unique offerings, Sunshine is still a very well-made and surprisingly intense sci-fi thriller. I mean, you don't have to re-invent the wheel every time out.

If you're already a fan of the flick, then you're going to salivate all over the DVD package that Fox has put together. In addition to two excellent audio commentaries (one with Danny Boyle and the other with scientific consultant Dr. Brian Cox), you'll also get 19 minutes of deleted scenes (including an alternate ending) that are available with optional director's commentary (most of these are cool character moments that hit the bin for reasons of pacing) and 23(!) separate web production diaries that cover all sorts of behind-the-scenes goings-on. Also included is the excellent theatrical trailer for Sunshine (yeah, it re-uses the Clint Mansell Requiem theme, but damn it works) and ... get this: Two short films that have nothing to do with the main feature, but Danny Boyle really likes 'em, and so he got them onto the DVD. How cool. They're called Dad's Dead (by Chris Shepherd) and Mole Hills (by Dan Arnold), and they make for perfect pre-movie viewing!

A fun movie for those who dig their sci-fi big and dark, Sunshine is delivered in flawless audio/video, and packing a whole bunch of great extra features. To give it a rental is a no-brainer. To me it's a keeper.