Saturday, 12 January 2008

Review: Sunshine (DVD)

Fantastic sci-fi drama. Incredibly beautiful throughout, and just about manages to maintain a dark and interesting story despite a slight collapse towards the end. 8/10

Good Points:

Design. The setting is both incredibly confined, with all of the action taking place on board a relatively small ship, and incredibly exposed, with the sheer unimaginable scale of the sun itself a constant presence. Indeed, the sun itself almost becomes an actor, as its presence has a greater and greater bearing on the physical and mental states of the characters throughout the film, providing a point of focus for all and obsession for some. And yet both the sense of scale and the attention to detail are outstanding, providing constant moments throughout the film that stand up on their own as beautiful images. There is a fair amount of CGI, but it sits very neatly (for the most part) behind the actors, and never distracts from the performances, while the sets themselves are well conceived and believable.

Music. I very rarely notice a film's music, and certainly wouldn't claim to be able to judge it in any kind of aesthetic sense, but the music in Sunshine definately stuck out. Part of the reason for this is that there are large parts of the film that play out without dialogue, especially towards the end of the film, and these scenes almost turn into pieces of art, with swelling music behind beautiful flowing visuals.

Acting. Cillian Murphy is great, and the whole cast in general do an awesome job. There is a great feeling that a close group of colleagues is breaking apart throughout the film, as there is real chemistry between them, especially in the ensemble scenes.

Plot. The first two thirds are excellent, with a combination of psychological terror, claustrophobia and the real pressure of the mission driving a huge amount of tension. The decisions and dilemmas faced by the characters feel real, and I felt a real sense of pain and anger as each little thing went wrong, and each crisis unfolded. There is a complete avoidance of the 'heroes-saving-the-world' mentality that infects a lot of disaster-style sci-fi, and the characters genuinely come off as people trying to do the right thing in extraordinary situations. Things being to come apart slightly towards the end (see below), but by no means is the end of the film a lost cause, and if we allow ourselves to accept the story as it unfolds towards the final scenes, the visual poetry continues to increase, and the film almost becomes a dance, or a dream, without dialogue or any sense of reality at all.

Bad Points
Plot. Pretty much the only bad point I can think of concerning the film is the way that the story develops into the final third. I don't really mind that the style changes, and I don't really mind that the writer and director clearly had some interesting ideas, and wanted to try and get some philosophy into the film, but I have issues with the way that it was done. Rather than have these ideas appear as a theme throughout, they all suddenly appear in the final half hour, which is hugely confusing, as we don't know where any of the characters stand on the issues, or how they are meant to relate to the rest of the story. It also means that some of the power of the first two thirds of the film, as a really interesting examination of the psychology of a group of humans isolated in a situation of extraordinary pressure, is lost. Whereas the majority of the film deals with the creeping dangers of isolation and pressure and cabin fever, the focus suddenly shifts to a more visceral (and, I think, less interesting) danger, and a lot of out-of-the-blue philosophy. Like I say, I've got no problem with these ideas in themselves, I just wish I could have seen the ending to the film with the themes that were actually present in the first hour or so continued.

That was enormously difficult to write, since I was actively trying to avoid spoiling plot points. I may need to do a second review in which I don't restrict myself in this manner, or else do future reviews in two parts, since I think a lot of what I wanted to say about the film was lost in generalisations and waffle. Either way, it'll have to wait for another day.

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