Fri, Apr 06, 2007 - Page 16 News List

Into the heart ofthe sun

One of the most exciting British movies this year is Danny Boyle's sci-fi epic, ‘Sunshine,’ which puts the divine back into a genre that had lost its way

By Mark Kermode  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

A team of scientists is sent on a mission to save humanity by reigniting the dying sun.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF FOX

At a key moment in Danny Boyle's radiant new sci-fi film Sunshine, a character is asked, "Are you an angel?" With its retina-scorching visuals, which blaze from the screen into the dark abyss of the cinema auditorium, this extraordinary epic certainly seems to burn as brightly as a host of fiery angels. Set in 2057, Sunshine follows the crew of the spaceship Icarus II as they attempt to deliver a thermonuclear payload into the heart of the sun, lending new light to our galaxy's inexorably darkening star. En route, they pick up a distress signal from their lost predecessor, Icarus I, which disappeared into the void seven years earlier. Like an interstellar Marie Celeste, the first Icarus now hangs in space like a ghost ship, seemingly without a soul in sight. But as the reason for its mission failure is gradually revealed (more psychological than scientific), the crew of Icarus II fall prey to the eternal inner demons which haunt those who fly too close to the sun.

Shot not in Hollywood but in the 3 Mills studios in London's East End, Sunshine boasts extraordinary computer graphic imagery so luminescent you feel you could get sunburn just watching the film. As a sensory experience, it's overwhelming. But perhaps more importantly, Sunshine also harks back to a time when sci-fi turned its attention not toward the hallowed teen market but toward the heavens. Although screenwriter Alex Garland has said the inspiration for the film came from "an article projecting the future of mankind from a physics-based, atheist perspective," this ambitious British fantasy increasingly blurs the boundaries between science and religion. In this respect, it falls within a grand tradition of adult-orientated science-fiction, which is haunted by the question of divinity, whether as a presence or an absence.

Film Notes:

SunshineDirected by Danny BoyleStaring: Rose Byrne (Cassie), Cliff Curtis (Searle), Chris Evans (Mace), Cillian Murphy (Capa), Hiroyuki Sanada (Kaneda), Mark Strong (Pinbacker), Michelle Yeoh (Corazon)Running time: 98 minutesTaiwan release: On general release


These ideas are familiar to director Danny Boyle, who had a traditional religious upbringing, and planned to join a seminary at the age of 14. "I was at school in Bolton," he remembers, "and all set to transfer to this seminary near Wigan. Then one of the priests told me that maybe I should wait, maybe I should stay and finish my school education. Quite soon after that, I saw A Clockwork Orange, which was the first film I went to see by myself. And it just changed everything. I know it all sounds too neat, but that's what happened."

Boyle went on to make Trainspotting, which has been dubbed "the Clockwork Orange of the Nineties" — a viscerally hip portrait of anarchic youth culture which became both a controversial modern film classic and a defining pop icon. Yet despite his current free-form agnosticism, Boyle's films have continued to be haunted by the detritus of his religious background, from the worldly angels of the romantic fantasy A Life Less Ordinary (which owes a debt to Powell and Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death aka Stairway to Heaven) to the solidly earthy apparitions of saints who appear to the young hero of the underrated Millions. Other Boyle hits include 28 Days Later, a Garland-scripted zombie shocker set in a terrifying post-apocalyptic Britain. Now, with Sunshine, Boyle has set his sights higher than ever before, making a film which addresses "what happens to your mind when you meet the creator of all things in the universe."

Sci-fi fans will see a range of familiar texts echoed in the broadstrokes outline of Sunshine, most notably Paul Anderson's Event Horizon, a flawed but fascinating 1990s Brit-pic in which a lost spaceship re-emerges from a black hole having been to hell and back — literally.

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