Sunshine
R3 - Hong Kong - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (21st October 2007).
The Film

Screenwriter Alex Garland wrote "Sunshine" as a love letter to psychological sci-fi, the genre has seen films such as the Kubrick classic "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) and also Andrei Tarkovsky's seminal masterpiece "Solaris" (1972). These films focus less on the action elements and veer away from the traditional space battle orientated films that populate the sci-fi genre as a whole. They are often existential and thoughtful representations on the effects on humans when faced with the unknown that is the universe. "Sunshine" pays homage to that concept and with the direction of Danny Boyle has crafted an interesting work that doesn't really offer anything new to the genre.
Directly following "Millions" (2004), Boyle was set to make a film based on a fire that engulfed a cold storage warehouse that took place in Worcester, the film "3000 Degrees" fell over due to protest from survivors of that tragic fire and also from the firefighters. Boyle moved onto "Sunshine" quickly but the finance didn't come easily as Fox had reservations about the film being too similar to Steven Soderbergh's "Solaris" (2002) remake which was a financial disaster. Instead the film's production would be moved to Fox Searchlight, a specialty film company developed by Fox to produce or acquire smaller budgeted films however the estimated $40 million budget was still too high for Searchlight and co-production funding would be sought from other sources including outside investment. Once complete the film's theatrical run would also provide challenges of its own, Fox continually shifted release dates in almost all markets including the U.S. and added to it the lack of substantial advertising the film underperformed.
"Sunshine" takes place 50 years into the future and the Sun's ability to stay alight is diminishing, being destroyed from the inside out. In an effort to re-ignite the sun a team of explorers are sent to deliver a payload that will help save humanity, but that mission fails and as a last ditch effort a second team is dispatched, they are Earth's only hope.
The crew chosen for this film is an eclectic bunch, an ensemble cast that features some wonderful talents from Asia, The United Kingdom, America, Australia and even New Zealand but they all speak in American accents (I guess in space everyone is American...or something like that). The team consists of Capa (Cillian Murphy), Corazon (Michelle Yeoh), Mace (Chris Evans), Dr. Searle (Cliff Curtis), Captain Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada), Cassie (Rose Byrne), Harvey (Troy Garity) and Trey (Benedict Wong). It's a truly International crew that helps reflect that the effort is a global one. The cast work wonderfully together and all appear as if they've been on that ship for months, It helped that Boyle requested they all live, train and watch films for reference together and the sense of togetherness is captured quite well.
The film's pace builds up, the structure allows for the two acts of the film to introduce the characters, plot elements and allows them to develop leading up to a final act which moves at a fast pace culminating in the final climax of the film. This is a technique used often in sci-fi and the time spent at the start allows the viewer to fully immerse themselves in the world of these characters. The script also examines how people perform and cop under such heavy responsibly and pressure, the character study is fascinating to explore and each crew members brings their own unique sensibilities to that challenge for example Corazon takes her mind off the pressure by focusing on growing vegetables and plants in a oxygen garden, Capa makes video messages for home and Dr. Searle tries to push the limits of sun exposure in the observation deck.
But where the script and structure has its strength it also has its weaknesses and that is unfortunately unraveled in the film's final act, as the film suddenly makes a complete 180 and turns into a horror film where the crew are hunted by the crazy ghost (?) of the Captain Pinbacker (Mark Strong), the Captain of the previous failed mission and crew members systematically begin to drop off like flies, that is of course after a series of losses from human error. This almost instant change ruins a lot of the build-up and goodwill generated from the film's first two acts and suddenly "Sunshine" doesn't really know what it wants to be.
Additionally and as mentioned before the film's style, pace and tone are all borrowed, it very much is a love letter to psychological sci-fi but there isn't anything here that we haven't really seen before, it's more of the same. It would have been great had Boyle taken this and made it more his own than a series of influences and homage's. But in saying that there's probably a lot here that sci-fi buffs will get into and it's worth checking out.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 this anamorphic transfer is spectacular. The image is pristine in clarity and sharpness and remains consistent throughout the film as a result the effects work comes across with great detail and depth, especially a lot of the fire and sun effects. Additionally colors are brilliantly represented from the cool hues of the ship's interior to the blaring intensity of the reds and oranges of the sun. Skin tones are natural and black levels are striking and bold with shadow detail remaining consistently solid throughout. I spotted very little grain and no flaws related to compression or edge-enhancement whatsoever. In a word this transfer is excellent and the only thing that could make any better is if it was in high-definition.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included in English DTS 5.1 half bit-rate as well as English Dolby Digital 5.1 and Thai Dolby Digital 2.0 surround. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS track and much like the image itself I was also blown away by this track (not as impressed as some of the uncompressed PCM tracks I've heard on many Blu-ray releases) but for DVD this half bit-rate track is top notch. The dialogue is crystal clear but the true value of this track lies amid its wonderfully balanced and immensely deep use of the surround channels. You really get the feeling that you're in a space ship traveling through the deepest darkest reaches of space, the direction sound effects sound natural and make excellent use of the sound space as do the ambient sounds, special effects sounds and most especially the film's score which is rendered beautifully here.
Optional subtitles are included in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Thai, Korean, Tagalog and Bahasa Indonesian.

Extras

First up we've got a feature-length audio commentary by the film's director Danny Boyle. Boyle takes us through the production process covering just about everything from his initial involvement in the film to the script including what attracted him to the project and the appeal of working with screenwriter Garland again. He also talks about the various influences for the film and also his vision for the look and feel of the space craft, production design and also the space suits which were partly influenced by actual stuff NASA is developing and also from the character Kenny off "South Park" (1997-Present). Comments are also made on the ensemble cast and why he chose this particular group of actors as well as other production elements such as the complex and almost year-long visual effects process among other things.

The second feature-length audio commentary is by Dr. Brian Cox, professor of physics and astronomy at University of Manchester, Dr. Cox served as a science advisor on this film and in this track he takes us through how the production wanted to be as scientifically accurate as possible (but with some exceptions of course) as he provides the basis for the film's science and goes into as much detail as possible and shares his experiences working on the project from his initial involvement to shedding light on the technology, space communication, the design of the ship and it's many function as well as provides some interesting information on the sun among other things.

Next up are a series of deleted scenes which can be viewed with optional audio commentary by the film's director Danny Boyle. In his commentaries he provides some background on the scenes and also on why they were omitted. These scenes can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' option and include:

- Montage Part 1: "Playing chess", "it really takes it out of you", "Washing carrots in the oxygen garden", "Coolant redirection", "Cooking" & "Wake-up" which runs for 6 minutes 27 seconds, this is a reel of footage that shows the various crew passing the time around the ship, it helps establish the environment in which they inhabit and also some character interaction.
- Montage Part 2: "Demolishing oxygen garden" & "Searle meets Capa" runs for 4 minutes 15 seconds. These scenes show the aftermath of the fire in the oxygen garden and a short scene with Dr. Searle and Capa talking about the possibilities of the mission.
- "In Deeper Space than We Are" runs for 1 minute 21 seconds, Cassie and Capa talk about Captain Kaneda's condition.
- "Prepping for Docking" runs for 1 minute 1 second, the crew prepare to dock with the Icarus I.
- "Rough Docking Procedure" runs for 2 minutes 36 seconds, the docking doesn't go as smoothly as expected.
- "Fight and We Die" runs for 2 minutes 32 seconds, Captain Pinbacker lays out the reality to Capa.
- "Alternate ending" runs for 50 seconds, Capa's sister gets his video message and looks up at the sun.

Also featured on this disc are 23 web production diaries, these can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' option and include:

- "Danny Boyle Introduction" runs for 2 minutes 9 seconds, in this clip he talks about the film, its tone and what he's trying to achieve with it.
- "Danny" runs for 2 minutes 45 seconds, the cast and crew talks about working with Boyle and why's he's so great.
- "Zero G Flight" runs for 1 minute 33 seconds, this is a look at the zero g flights the cast were taken on.
- "Cillian" runs for 1 minute 48 seconds, Cillian talks about his character and the research he did for the role.
- "Pre Viz" runs for 1 minute 32 seconds, this takes a look at the intense pre-planning the filmmaker's undertook before the film started production.
- "Science of the Sun" runs for 1 minute 39 seconds, this is a brief look at the sun and what it's made up of as well as the temperature.
- "Hiroyuki" runs for 1 minute 52 seconds, he talks about his career, the film and learning about space and about being apart of the production.
- "Troy Garity Harvey Introduction" runs for 2 minutes 2 seconds, Garity talks about his role and being a fan of sci-fi and also talks about the script.
- "Voice of Icarus" runs for 2 minutes 12 seconds, this clip takes a look at the actress that plays the voice of the computer.
- "Michelle and the Oxygen Garden" runs for 2 minutes 20 seconds, Yeoh talks about her character a look at the garden on the ship.
- "Anita Screens" runs for 2 minutes 55 seconds, this takes a look at the design of the ship's many onscreen displays.
- "Alwin K├╝lcher" runs for 1 minute 55 seconds and takes a look at the director of photography and the approach to shooting this film.
- "Cliff Curtis" runs for 1 minute 48 seconds, Curtis comments on his role and what his character's all about and his motivations.
- "Bumps and Stunts" runs for 1 minute 17 seconds, this takes a look at the wire stunts for the film used to replicate zero g in space.
- "Benny" runs for 1 minute 41 seconds, the actor talks about his character's responsibility and Boyle also comments on the character.
- "The Science of Space Travel Physiology" runs for 2 minutes 36 seconds, this clip takes a look at space travel and how the body deals with being in a weightless environment.
- "Space Suit" runs for 2 minutes 22 seconds and focuses on the design of the space suit.
- "Rose Intro" runs for 1 minute 55 seconds, the actress talks about character and the attraction to the script.
- "Love Letters" runs for 1 minute 18 seconds, the set dressing team tell us about the details added to each set such as the love letter written by the character Harvey to his wife.
- "Chris Evans" runs for 2 minutes 7 seconds, Chris talks about the mission and the challenges of the part.
- "VFX" runs for 1 minute 43 seconds and takes a look at the complicated special effects for the film for a key scene.
- "Big Bangs" runs for 2 minutes 20 seconds and takes a look at the practical fire effects.
- "The Science of Sun Death" runs for 3 minutes and is a look at what would happen to Earth if the sun dies.

Following that are 2 short films, these films are unrelated to the film, director Boyle provides a brief audio introduction which runs for 54 second as he explains that most people don't get to see a lot of shorts and here he's presented two of his favorites:

- "Dad's Dead" (2002) directed by Chris Shepherd which runs for 6 minutes 39 seconds and is a cool animation that tells the story of a kid living in Liverpool as he recounts his memories of the antics of his best friend.

- "Mole Hills" (2006) directed by Dan Arnold and runs for 6 minutes 11 seconds, I'm not entirely sure what this is realty, but it's a single camera set up looking at a bunch of mole hills on a sidewalk at an intersection. As far as I can tell it's might be some sort of experiment to see how long the mole hills can remain undisturbed, whatever it is the result is boredom.

Also included on this disc is the film's original theatrical teaser which runs for 1 minute 54 seconds as well as the original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 9 seconds.

Rounding out the extras are DVD-ROM content that consists of web links to the Fox website.

Overall

The commentaries were the best extras on this disc, the web diaries provide only basic information and are all too brief, I'm a little disappointed that this film did not get a more in-depth making-of documentary which would have been a much more welcomed addition to this set of extras.

The Film: B- Video: A+ Audio: A Extras: B+ Overall: B+

 


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