You know what’s pretty damn amazing? That’s right: the Sun.
Without the Sun, we’d all be well screwed. Frozen little peepcicles being devoured by giant bat-like monsters. Probably. I’m just guessing.
Luckily, we don’t really know what would happen to us without the Sun unless you’re some sort of brainiac scientist or can read or whatever. Nope. We have the Sun, good old Sol, to keep our toes toasty and give J.J. Abrams some lens flare now and again. Everything is totally copacetic but wait! Oh no! What is happening!!!!
The sun is going down—sneaking off behind that mysterious horizon thing! Will it ever come back? Probably not, right? What will happen to us?! If only we had a pair of not exceptionally good but nevertheless solidly entertaining science fiction films to tell us.
We do? Hooray! I guess life will continue on for at least one more Mind Control Double Feature. Surely we can keep our houses and toes and giant bat-like monsters warm for at least that long.
Sunshine is one of those Danny Boyle films you probably didn’t see, you fickle bastards. Sure, you loved Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire and were all into Shallow Grave before anyone else, but noooooo…. you let Sunshine come and go just because it looked kind of goofy and highly derivative.
And yes, sure, it is kind of goofy and highly derivative but still; it’s much better than most of that superhero crap you’re watching on Saturday nights.
In Sunshine, an international ensemble cast sets forth on a mission to do nothing less than jump-start the Sun. Yes. The Sun, see, it’s low on petrol and freezing everyone’s feetsy-toes. The people of 2057 pool together to make a stellar bomb with the mass of Manhattan and build a ship designed to jam it right in the Sun’s eye. That’s it, folks. Last chance. Get this firecracker lit or kiss your affection for internal fluidity goodbye.
Not a horrible premise. It’s better than saving the Earth from aliens from Dimension 12 or sending Bruce Willis to drill into an asteroid or zombie serial killer sharks.
Right. So. First the good news. The cast is excellent, including Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Michelle Yeoh, Rose Byrne, Mark Strong and more. The film also looks fantastic, using claustrophobic cool colors to turn the characters stir crazy on their long space voyage, and then blinding them with the overwhelming heat of yellow and orange when that mean old Sun pops by for crisps. Danny Boyle knows how to put a film together and have fun doing it, too. While you’re going to watch Sunshine and spend a lot of time going *cough* 2001 *cough* Alien *cough* Das Boot *cough* you’re also not going to spend too much time being reminded of films that suck. At least Boyle’s taking tricks from stuff we love.
Let’s face it folks, sometimes that’s good enough. Sometimes you want to watch something you haven’t seen and new and flawed is good enough to make the grade.
Sunshine is that film. And Sunshine is flawed but fun. For one thing, I’ll tell you now that the last act is pretty dumb and head-scratchingly wrong. I’ll also tell you that while the production took great pains to do its science homework, they weren’t too fussed about breaking the laws of physics in the name of some whizz-bang. So if you’re one of those folks who gets your eyeballs crossed when your Q-ball isn’t constructed in a field theory of a complex scalar field Φ, in which Lagrangian is invariant under a global U(1) symmetry, this film is going to make your optometrist rich.
Underneath all the well-trod sci-fi staples and the questionable script choices, however, Sunshine is, well, still illuminating. There’s something there about saving the world that you usually don’t get in films. There’s a philosophical/spiritual element that’s satisfyingly eerie and untethering as well. And then there’s the Sun, growing steadily larger as you get closer to it, its massive power dwarfing everything else.
I sure hope it doesn’t go away for a month or something without Vin Diesel around to save us.
Pitch Black (2000)
For a David Twohy film starring Vin Diesel, Pitch Black is seriously excellent.
I’ll just give you a minute to parse that compliment before I continue. Ready? Good.
Pitch Black or, as it’s now known for marketing purposes The Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black, is a sci-fi/horror film that doesn’t suck the eyelids off caterpillars. Maybe. It’s been a long time since I saw it. The story is simple and direct and goes like this:
There’s a spaceship that crash lands on a planet with three suns. The survivors—including interstellar badass Riddick (Vin Diesel)—learn two important things in trying to figure out how to save themselves: 1) every 22 years the planet experiences a month-long eclipse that’s inconveniently due any minute, and 2) giant bat-like monsters who hate the light are lurking in surrounding caves waiting for supper. Bad news, boys and girls.
Luckily, there is also some good news! Keith David! That’s right. Keith David is in this picture and he has been known to bolster films as disparate as Cloud Atlas and Armageddon, elevating them from total suckdom to only partial suckdom. Also: Vin Diesel! You loved him in Faster Than Five Furious xXx Drift Nannies.
I know. This one’s a hard sell. David Twohy has written and/or directed 17 films, of which the best is The Fugitive, the second best is Pitch Black, and the third best is Waterworld. Seriously. The man is not generously talented. (Although you really do need to watch his film The Arrival in which Charlie Sheen plays a scientist. Charlie Sheen! It’s unbelievable on so many levels your head will explode.)
What do I like about Pitch Black? Hm. Let me see. For one, Vin Diesel is an absolutely ridiculous screen presence. He’s like a less-insane, less-talented Steven Segal and that’s just fun to watch. I like that there’s not a lot of rigmarole to the story, it’s just bad luck, here come the monsters. There’s no overarching mythology that makes no sense and forces you to throw your 12-gallon cup of brand-name cola at the television. That came with the sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, which you should avoid like a piñata filled with biting spiders. This is just a good film to have on while you’re avoiding doing other things, like waiting for the Sun to return, which it certainly will. I’m sure of it. I mean, it always has before, right? Right?
Oh god. We’re all doomed, aren’t we? Oh well. It could be worse.
Both very solid films. Sunshine gets really weird near the end, totally left-turn but I didn’t mind it when I watched.
Pitch Black is a film that is better than the sum of it’s parts. The sequel is utterly stupid.
Yep. Chronicles of Riddick is abysmally terrible. But Pitch Black stays small and hangs together.
The end of Sunshine is just a different, less interesting movie. Not awful just wrong. If you want to see Danny Boyle’s real disaster film, watch A Life Less Ordinary. It’s stunningly ill conceived from soup to nuts.
Was reviewing your 40 double feature list and saw this. First, I commend you for the prolific amount of material you have posted lately. It’s impressive and good subjects too. I enjoyed reading about the Soderbergh talk.
So I’m a huge fan of Sunshine notwithstanding its flaws (why does that statement sound so familiar?) But seriously, I think the tone of the movie is remarkable, similar to the scope of 2001, in juxtaposing the relatively minuscule plight of man with the vast mystery of the universe. For example, Boyle’s austerity in which he shows the sun vaporize the captain, reducing him to nothing more than a tiny cloud of particles, is sobering. The plot is weak, but the subtext of obsession is brilliant. Such a great cast, whose acting really brought depth to the story.
Sci-fi should be a vehicle for great philosophical and moral questions, and so rarely do modern sci-fi films do this effectively. Prometheus was a missed opportunity, for example. Sunshine and Moon are among my faves of the past 5 years or so.
Thanks FT. Sometimes, there’s just a lot to say and time in which to say it. Check the comments of the Soderbergh post as the SF Film Society just released video of the address which they claimed wasn’t and shouldn’t be recorded.
Sunshine. Yes. Absolutely. Big ideas well conveyed. What are we compared to the Sun and how could man possibly be egotistical enough to try and restart it? I agree with you about Moon, too. And I assume you’ve seen Children of Men?
Yes, Children of Men was so bleak; Michael Cain’s role is classic sci-fi.
Will definitely check out the Soderbergh video! I hope he returns to films, although I give TV shows credit for a substantial leap in merit in the past few years.