Thursday, January 24, 2008


British director Danny Boyle cites 2001: A Space Odyssey, Tarkovsky’s Solaris, and the original Alien as the three greatest “space movies” of all time. Well, his own Sunshine, released on DVD earlier this month, turns out to also be a masterpiece of that genre. What’s really astonishing, though, is that this film, by the man responsible for such critically acclaimed movies as Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, received almost no fanfare until now and was only released marginally in U.S. theaters this past summer. What’s the deal?

Sunshine, which I purchased only because I saw Boyle credited on the DVD case, literally leaps out of nowhere and onto my list of twenty or so favorite science fiction films. It’s breathtaking on countless levels, and it passes two essential Conger criteria for Great Movies: (1) after first watching it, the film haunted me until my second viewing a day or two later, and (2) it bears up to repeated viewings, revealing deeper secrets with each replay.

Here’s what I like about Sunshine:

• The story is riveting. In brief, to “restart” a dying sun, Icarus II journeys forth with a nuclear device. The ship follows an earlier mission that disappeared seven years before and eventually stumbles across the first Icarus, now lifeless but with its payload intact. What happened? And will whatever happened impact Icarus II’s assignment?

• The cast is sensational, including Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Batman Begins), Chris Evans (Fantastic Four), and Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). You care about this crew.

• The movie is stunning to look at. The effects are gasp-inducing.

• The soundtrack by Underworld is phenomenal.

• Written by Alex Garland (who also scripted 28 Days Later), Sunshine is speculative and thought-provoking, way beyond most of what passes for sci-fi these days. It might be accused of being too esoteric or too full of itself. I’d disagree. Yes, it is layered with multiple ideas and themes (Examples: what is duty? is the crew playing God?), and many of them may not be clear until second or third viewings. But it’s all worth the effort, and the film is punctuated by exciting and beautiful “action” sequences that are never gratuitous but instead propel the story forward.

By the way, this single-disc DVD is packed with goodies, including deleted scenes (with Boyle commentary) and separate full-length film commentaries by Boyle and Dr. Brian Cox from the University of Manchester. It’s a boffo package.

Sunshine is highly recommended.

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At 2:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Sunshine [. . .] literally leaps out of nowhere and onto my list of twenty or so favorite science fiction films."

I pine for the long-lost days when people knew what the word "literally" meant.

At 3:25 PM, Blogger Wally Conger said...

According to the dictionary closest at hand, Anon, "literally" means:

1. in the literal or strict sense: What does the word mean literally?

2. in a literal manner; word for word: to translate literally.

3. actually; without exaggeration or inaccuracy: The city was literally destroyed.

4. in effect; in substance; very nearly; virtually.


At 5:13 PM, Blogger B.W. Richardson said...

I think meaning #3 works here. I wonder what Anon thinks it "really" means? I'm literally baffled.

At 9:12 AM, Blogger Jacques said...

I can't believe you didn't mention Rose Byrne...

At 7:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous, literally has been used that way - as an intensifier - since as early as the 1760s.


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