Elements of the exciting space adventure Sunshine have been repurposed from other sci-fi projects with a resourcefulness ecologists might applaud even if screenwriting students protest. There’s the last-ditch attempt to jump-start Earth’s dying sun in the year 2057 by nuking it, a Hail Mary maneuver straight out of Armageddon or The Core. There are the mysteries of the doomed and vanished first crew, resonant of Solaris (or, for those lower of brow, Event Horizon), which now haunt the vulnerable second crew as they embark on their life-or-death assignment. There’s even a computer (ominously named Icarus) with a speaking voice trained at the same diction academy as HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as a contemplation of infinite consciousness in an infinite universe that invites a humming of ”Also Sprach Zarathustra.”
But the pieces come together in this brooding odyssey with a bang. Sunshine is another thinking-person’s thriller from director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland, also co-pilots on 28 Days Later. And if the movie’s dramatic trajectory shortcircuits at the end, the experience is never less than a blast. While the unfathomable burning brightness of the sun bathes the whole picture in flashes of cinematic dazzle, Boyle and his team ground the story in details chosen for their sophisticated, underplayed authenticity.
An international space mission could look like this, right down to the composition of the crew of eight dining together with chopsticks — logical utensils, since half are Asian, including the captain (The Last Samurai’s Hiroyuki Sanada) and the onboard botanist (Michelle Yeoh). The psychologist is from New Zealand (Whale Rider’s Cliff Curtis). One of the pilots is Australian (28 Weeks Later’s Rose Byrne). And the narrator (Cillian Murphy) is Irish via the Milky Way, at least judging from his extraordinary peepers. Even peering from a slit in a massive helmet, those blue orbs hold their own against anything the universe sends one lone space traveler’s way.