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Sunshine

Fox // R // January 8, 2008
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted January 23, 2008 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:


Danny Boyle burst onto the movie scene in 1996 with Trainspotting,
a brilliant film about a London drug addict.  His name was on everyone's
lips once again in 2002 with the release of his classic zombie flick 28
Days Later
.  Jumping genres once again, in 2007 he released Sunshine,
a SF film with lofty ambitions that nearly does what it sets out to do. 
Fox has released the film on Blu-ray with a good looking transfer and a
nice lossless audio track with makes this good though flawed movie worth
watching.

The sun is dying.  50 years in the future the sun has become infected
and will soon be extinguished.  Humanity comes together and created
the Icarus, a space ship with a giant bomb attached that, theoretically,
will start the sun working again.  It left Earth and was never heard
from again.




Seven years later the Icarus II is on its way to Sol, again with a bomb
the size of the island of Manhattan strapped to it.  With a solar
shield protecting it from the harsh heat and radiation from the sun, the
Icarus II with its 8-man international crew is nearing its destination.

As they close in on the sun the crew discovers something astounding: 
The Icarus I in orbit around the sun.  It's decided, though not unanimously,
to try to reach their sister ship.  Not to see if there are any survivors,
but to see if they can salvage the first bomb.  After all, two attempts
to cure the sun would be better than one.  This means a slight course
correction.  When something goes wrong however, the Icarus II's oxygen
factory is damaged and their only hope to reach their destination is finding
more supplies on their sister ship.

Sunshine sounds a lot like a typical SF disaster movie like The Core,
and to a certain extent it plays out like one.  A small error causes
a problem that needs to be mended, which in turn causes death and more
problems.  This film sets itself apart from its mindless cousins in
the execution however.  This is a carefully paced thoughtful film
that has more in common with 2001: A Space Odyssey than Armageddon
or Deep Impact.  Danny Boyle has crafted a SF film where the
people are more important than the special effects or the action scenes. 
You can feel the palatable dread as the mission slowly starts to sour. 
When one crewmember confides to another that she knows none of them will
ever return to Earth, it's just what the audience is thinking.  Yet
who wouldn't sacrifice themselves to save all of mankind?




The visual look of the film is something spectacular and adds to the
emotion of the film.  The scenes of the Icarus II, so gigantic in
scale yet appearing so small in the dead of space brings home how alone
they truly are.  The brilliant glimpses of the sun likewise underlines
how awesome and huge their task is.

While watching this film (my first exposure to it) I was awestruck. 
A SF fan from way back, I was thinking that this was a film that would
become a classic of the genre, a great work that would cement Danny Boyle
as a master story-teller.

And then we get to the third act.

For reasons that boggle the mind, in the last 20 minutes of the movie
changes from an intelligent SF film into a third rate slasher pic. 
I let out an audible moan when [spoiler]a
deranged psycho who looks like Freddy Kruger started running over the ship
trying to kill everyone. [end spoiler
Not only did I change the tone of the film, but made it seem cheap and
hackneyed.  That's only the end however.  The rest of the film
is still excellent, even if it does fall in the last act.


The Blu-ray Disc:




Video:

This movie comes with a nice looking 2.35:1 1080p image encoded with
the AVC codex at 16 Mbps.  The first thing that strikes viewers about
this disc is the wonderful amount of contrast between the various scenes. 
Images of the Icarus II floating in the deep blackness of space feature
an inky black background with the silver spars of the ship being well defined
and sharp.  There is a lot of black in this film, and it is consistently
solid and deep without being crushed.   Just as the dark scenes
look great, so do the harshly bright shots when the sun's light is flooding
an observation room or the ship's solar shield is visible.  These
parts are overexposed and washed out, but the bleached look they have really
reproduces the impossibly bright light quite well.  Even in these
scenes details are still present and the film has a well defined look. 
In between those two extremes, most of the interior shots of the ship,
the disc does an excellent job of recreating the look that Boyle was going
for.  The inside of the Icarus II is purposefully drab and lacks a
lot of eye pop, but that's certainly intentional.  The level of detail
and contrast is very good too.  It's easy to see the sunlight reflecting
off of the beads of sweat on the commander's brow when he's on an EVA,
and the stubble on Cillian Murphy's chin looks like you could touch it.

Digitally the film looks fine too.  There was only the slightest
hint of banding in one or two scenes, and aliasing was totally absent. 
There was a small amount of grain through the film, and a couple of scenes
had some digital noise, but most viewers wouldn't see it if they weren't
looking for it.  Overall this is a very nice looking disc with only
some very minor imperfections.




Audio:

Viewers have quite a choice in the audio department.  This disc
comes with Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English, Spanish, and French as
well as a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1.  The DTS-HD track looks
sounds great.  The mix makes good use of the rears for incidental
sound effects, such as when the ship is turning and the heating and cooling
metal starts to creak.  This eerie sound comes from all corners of
the room and is quite effective.

Being a mood piece, there are several times when the soundtrack in nearly
quiet and those are just about as effective as the huge action scene at
the end.  Unfortunately that wasn't always the case, and I did find
some of the scenes a little too intense sonically, with the music or sound
effects mixed a bit high for my tastes.  A little more restraint would
have done a world of good.  These sections weren't frequent however,
and most of the film sounded wonderful.

Extras:

This is the second Profile 1.1 disc that I've reviewed.  The first
was Resident Evil Extinction, and I found the presentation pretty cheesy. 
With this disc the implementation works much better, but it still feels
like a novelty that will soon fall into disuse.

Profile 1.1 is an enhanced Picture-in-Picture feature.  With the
exception of the Panasonic BD30, there are currently no stand alone players
that are capable of displaying the Profile 1.1 material, so if you want
to see this and you don't have a BD30, you'll have to play this on a PS3. 
What you'll get when you do that is basically a new way to watch the special
features.  While the film plays a small P-in-P box pops up every so
often and a crew member with related some additional details about the
scene.  This worked pretty well, with one of the design crew talking
about the Icarus II's kitchen for example.  While this was interesting
enough, it only occurs ten times over the course of the film and all together
these inserted clips last less than 20 minutes.  Because they are
so sporadic, I'm not sure why you'd want to watch the movie like that.  
These clips are also available separately so people without Profile 1.1
enhanced players can view them.

The other Profile 1.1 offering was Journey into Sound
This was an interesting idea that nearly works.  Viewers can play
four scenes and switch the audio to whichever speakers they want to in
real time.  It was fun to play with this, seeing how throwing the
narration to the left or rear affects the mood of the scene, but after
a minute or two the newness had worn off and I moved on.

There are two commentary tracks available too.  The first is by
director Danny Boyle where he talks about some of the problems he had on
the film and some of the themes he incorporated.  This track is pretty
technical in nature but even so was entertaining.  Even so, I enjoyed
the second commentary even more.  It was by the film's science director
Dr. Brian Cox.  He talks about the science behind the film and some
of the flaw that managed to sneak in.  This wasn't dull or dry at
all, but very engaging and interesting.  SF fans who are interested
in the real-life science behind the fiction should seek this track out.

Next up are a series of 12 deleted scenes including an alternate ending,
all with optional commentary by the director.  Most of these weren't
all that interesting but it's nice to be able to see them.  The 23
Production
Diary
entries run almost 40 minutes but weren't all that engaging. 
They were originally posted on the web to promote the film before and during
its theatrical run, but these shorts didn't add much to my understanding
of the film or how it was made.  *yawn*

The special features wrap up with something really neat; two short films. 
These have nothing to do with the movie itself, but it's a nice way to
get shorts disseminated so that people see them.  I agree with Danny
Boyle who, in his introduction to these films, states that he hopes more
people will start putting shorts on DVDs as bonus features.  The first
one is Dad's Dead is a brilliant mixture of live action and animation
that tells the story of a boy whose best friend is a juvenile delinquent. 
It was really good and I'm glad it was included on the disc.  Unfortunately
the same can't be said of the second film, Mole Hills.  This
was done by a member of the crew, and I can only assume that Boyle included
it on the disc out of a sense of loyalty.  Basically made some small
piles of dirt on a sidewalk, set a camera up across the street, and exposed
a fraction of a second's worth of film every few minutes.  The result
is a six minute exercise in boredom.  Near the end the camera ever
gets bumped and positions so it's shooting a parked car out of focus, but
they left that in.  Just skip that one.

Final Thoughts:

If it wasn't for the flawed last act, this would have been one of my
favorite films from the last couple of years.  As it is, this is still
a movie worth watching.  With a wonderful atmosphere and an interesting
story, this carefully paced film shows that Danny Boyle certainly knows
how to tell a story.  Even with the less than perfect ending, this
film is recommended.

Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do
not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.

 

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