Do go see the new science fiction movie Sunshine -- it is visually stunning and deserves to be seen on a big screen. But don't believe the hype that this is the best science fiction movie in years. Even if you think it is, that may be in part due to the dearth of real science fiction movies. I've seen several early reviews talking about how smart Sunshine is, how good the science is. No, it isn't very smart or at least not very smart to any great depth. What really pisses me off is that they are within a few scenes of pulling off a real coup and making a really smart and scientific science fiction film. Instead, I feel like they either had a meeting and decided to jazz it up in order to make it more exciting, more a thriller. Or they listened to the scientists who advised them and said "That's really cool" and then went off to do what they wanted for no good reason.
There Is A Plot
You think global warming is a bitch? Imagine if the Sun -- our Sun -- was dying. The basic flight plan is to send a giant hydrogen bomb to reignite the core of our nearest and dearest star. The bad news? This is the second try. The first mission disappeared without a trace seven years before and this effort pretty much taps out humanity's resources. After passing Mercury and entering the zone where communication is no longer possible, you know -- the one you've never heard of before, the crew of the Icarus II discover the emergency beacon of the Icarus I.
Wait a second, I know this one.
A few years ago we had not one, but two Mars movies: Red Planet and Mission to Mars. Apparently going to Mars isn't exciting enough. We had to include finding an alien artifact in one and dealing with a out-of-control military robot in the other. Now I have nothing against alien artifact stories -- indeed, I am exceedingly fond of 2001: A Space Odyssey. And after seeing Sunshine on Saturday night, on late night TV they were running Contact, a very smart movie that actually includes some scientists... doing science!
But let's ponder this for a minute. Taking a mega-ginormous bomb and dropping it into the Sun in order to restart its fusion core isn't, by definition, a picnic run. So there's already a great deal of potential for things to go wrong, problems to solve, errors to make and crew members to go bonkers. So why go all mystical on us? Why make it look like the killer isn't/no longer human? Because even if I were to be generous and blame it all on artsy-fartsy film cutting and flashes of odd imagery, rather than intent, it adds to the confusion.
Dr. Phil Has Issues
Despite the visual beauty of the Icarus II, I am very frustrated by three things: (1) Who in their right mind goes on a long trip of this magnitude and doesn't cross-train the crew in multiple jobs to back people up? (2) Where the hell does the artificial gravity come from? (3) Do not hire engineers to design and build "Earth's last, best hope" if their number one engineering principle seems to be "put all your eggs in one basket".
Dismiss the first as just typical invented claptrap. "Everyone" knows that in a movie crew everyone has one and only one purpose. The second point is much more serious. We aren't given any indication that this human culture is so far advanced that they can make artificial gravity. Worse, the Icarus II has rotating structures, except that they don't seem to be ones which even need to be rotating. The antennas spinning round and around? Why?
Worse even more is what happens to the Payload as it falls into the Sun. At some point the big shield is destroyed and we're left with this Borg cube of a Payload, which seems to be breaking up at the edges and is shown RAPIDLY rotating as it falls. Yeesh! For our physicist riding down the Payload, he should be jam smeared along the ceiling. Yet he goes running around and then stands calmly in the middle of the storm.
And I will ignore the feeble attempt to make some point about time and space where the detonation seems to stand in front of him... in real time. Dumb.
Finally we get to the sorry-assed engineering. I don't want to give away anything, but the engineers who built the Icarus I/II never saw the movie 2001, because everything is controlled by the computer. Hell, there aren't even any battery powered emergency lights stuck on the walls. And ONE airlock? Let's store all our important stuff in one place. You can't have a fire in space after all, right?
Stupid, stupid and stupid.
So many reviews want to cite all the great homages in play from 2001 to Alien. Meanwhile, the film that comes to mind for me is Event Horizon -- another visually stunning film with a killer cast, stupid engineering and a violent Plot Twist Literally From Hell which ruins the whole damned thing.
And yet... somehow Sunshine transcends this sillyness and I am still left discussing it twenty-four hours later. Go see this film.