It’s 2017 and you know what that means. It’s the 10th anniversary of 2007, obviously. I figured I’d catch up on some of the big films released that year I missed so far. Starting with Sunshine!
How could a film with such a great setup go so wrong? The first twenty minutes introduce clearly defined, interesting characters, a brilliant closed set and a great concept/conflict. A team of eight scientists/astronauts are on a mission to save the sun by throwing a nuke into it. Then they reach Mercury where the remnants of the failed last mission lie and they calculate they’ll have better chances if they go save another nuke to give themselves two chances to save the sun. And it was directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland (writer/director of Ex Machina). So far so good.
And then a whole bunch of shit happens. A lot of it’s confusing, and a lot of it comes from different genres. The navigator forgets to realign the shield and so the ship takes sun damage. He feels guilt for making such a basic error and spends the rest of the movie locked away insane because his plot function is now filled. Like do we even need this guy? The film would be the exact same if the damage just happened for some uncontrollable reason and he was never there. We get a big, pretty well acted scene of him realising his error and feeling remorse… but nothing ever really happens with it. He just goes away until they realise need to kill him to save oxygen but it turns out he already killed himself.
One of the problems is the film tries to have its cake and eat in terms of scientific accuracy. The premise is inherently a little silly: it’s something we know would never really work but we’re willing to accept it in the world of this film. And yet loads of scenes get bogged down in the ‘real science’ type stuff Christopher Nolan loves so much. Heck, Brian Cox worked as a supervisor. But what’s the point in spending a few weeks making sure your gravity look right when your final act is a fight with some semi-immortal crazy light person inside a nuke blowing up the sun? It tries to please science nuts and action lovers alike and fails to do either. The scientific communities’ response was backlash, and most of the action is undermined by the way the style changes every twenty minutes. It’s a sci-fi/horror/psychological/thriller/slasher movie and doesn’t really end up fulfilling any of these.
And look, lots of scientifically accurate films are great. Lots of silly space films are great. Marrying the two can definitely work. Heck, probably the best scene of the film (other than maybe the intro with all the promise it delivered) is when the team get trapped on the old ship and have to get back on by jumping. This combines the scientific element without bogging the scene down: it uses modern physics to set up rules for what will happen before sending us to fun and beautiful action sequence. But this isn’t representative of the film as a whole. The film has this tone of grandeur (a la ‘Solaris’ and ‘2001’) like it’s exploring some deep themes about the future of humanity… but it’s just not. It doesn’t have to, that’s fine. But lines like ‘Are you an angel?’ hints that he (Pinbacker) might be. That could be an interesting path to take, but there’s nothing else to suggest it. He’s not really angel-like in any other way. He’s good at surviving? I don’t know, It just feels like something they chucked on top because it sounds cool.
And let’s get onto Pinbacker. He’s horror-like in a way I don’t think was hugely intended. He’s largely faceless and immortal in the way Mike Myers is. But this simply doesn’t fit in where the rest of the characters have clear personalities and the film is clearly going for psychological and sometimes spiritual results. This villain, Pinbacker, went insane and sabotaged the original last mission and is now still alive in the old ship six years ago. And again this is a pretty good premise: the film consulted NASA about astronaut psychology and… don’t apply it to the character who needs it most. He went insane for insane reasons. There are a million ways he could explain himself and his attitude properly, in a way which resonated with or even developed the scientific/spiritual themes at play here. But they’re just kind of present and largely empty. Like there’s stuff about angels and the Sun is treated all Godlike but there’s no consistent large meaning to gleam from any of this. It’s just a bunch of stuff. And that’s what this film comes down to… just a bunch of stuff.