Friday, April 13, 2007

Movie review - Sunshine: not so hot

Nothing but spoilers
We saw a film called Sunshine last night, drawn in by the movie posters plastering every bus stop and tram station in Strasbourg.

Going by the posters, it looked like it was going to be a good old fashioned summer blockbuster/disaster flick – something obviously involving a space ship and getting far closer than could possibly be healthy to the sun. Neither of us had heard of it before, which is odd as we both keep up on the entertainment news from home but we went anywhere.

As loyal readers of this here blog know, I generally only review movies here that I hate and I am delighted to report that Sunshine qualifies eminently. I feel bad ripping it apart here – as far as I could tell it was actually a small budget movie, possibly British or Australian, a noble attempt to compete with Hollywood in the dumb-as-a-sack-of-hammers blockbuster department. Criticizing it makes me feel slightly like I’m kicking a puppy.

On the other hand, there is a risk, however tiny, that someone reading this might be tempted to see it and feel I will have failed in my duty were I not to do my utmost to prevent that from happening.

The plot, such as it was, was established in a portentous voice over from the Captain of the Icarus II: “The sun is dying,” he says. His craft, the Icarus II has been sent to kick start our home star by dropping the mother of all atomic bombs into the centre of it before the earth turns into a giant snow cone.

You know it’s serious because he speaks really slowly. You know its dangerous because of a passing reference to Icarus I – the first mission, which went to the sun and was never heard of again. Anyone want to predict what happens next?

The movie stars the guy who played the flaming dude from the Fantastic Four movie, and the guy who played the Scarecrow from Batman Begins plus a lot of what are known in sci-fi movies as Ensign Cannon Fodders: filler characters that will need to be killed off one by one.

Movies set on long-term space missions all tend to fall into two categories: Alien, where sweaty actors do battle with each other, claustrophobic sets and a strange beastie lurking in the air ducts. Or they fall into the Solaris mode, where strange space phenomena make us realize that the Final Frontier is, in fact, our own souls.

Sunshine had no idea whatsoever which kind of movie it was and appeared to fail at both, like Event Horizon but without the budget.

After some brief (and poorly edited) establishing scenes wherein we learn which character is the wise captain, the philosopher/doctor, the arrogant cowboy, the tormented scientist, the love interest and the level-headed female character who takes down the men with her wise cracks, the cowardly yet ambitious second officer).

Suddenly, a fight on the bridge occurs between the cowboy and tormented scientist, handily establishing them as rivals and the main characters. What they were fighting about was never established but never mind! We’re picking up a distress signal!

From whom? Why, the seven-years gone Icarus I! No one could possibly be alive after all this time, could they?

Through a shoddy use of statistics that my scientist readers will appreciate, they decide that if they can pick up the bomb on the Icarus I they will have two bombs and therefore double their chances to jump-start the sun. The fact that something obviously went horribly wrong on the first ship did not enter into their calculations at all. Not surprising – this is presumably only the second best crew earth had to offer, the best one having been on the Icarus I.

So they change course, except they forget to readjust their giant sun shield (damned B-Team!), which is then damaged. Now, call me crazy, but if they have developed the technology to remind us to turn our headlights off when we park our cars, do you think they might have come up with a similar warning system for a space ship that is supposed to save all mankind? A little “beep” or a flashing light or something?

In the process of fixing the shield, wise old captain dies. One down! Why’d you get him to do the introductory voice over if we weren’t going to get to know him?

Problem solved the merry Icarus II continues on to the Icarus I. Arriving, they find that it had been deliberately sabotaged, all the crew are dead. Or are they? No one did a head count and faster than you can say “Alien” the two ships are somehow separated. Leaving the boarding crew stranded. Two more crew die! (take a bow, philosopher doctor! Aurevoir cowardly second officer! You didn’t get to be acting captain long!)

It was at this point that the movie really showed its budgetary restrictions. It was clearly shot in an abandoned factory. Surgeon’s scalpels were X-acto blades attached to electric toothbrushes. The crew zipped along in their ship with those mini-scooters that were such a hit with the kids 10 years ago.

The bad guy – basically a Jesus freak with a really bad sunburn – shows up a starts killing people for about ten minutes (Ensign Fodders – we hardly knew ye! Smarter-than-all-the-guys girl, say goodbye!).

At this point I realized that the Fantastic Four guy must have been terrified of being typecast as a “guy who burns.” I can imagine his meeting with the producers now: “Yeah, I’ll appear in your traveling to the sun movie, but I must insist that when my character bites it, I am frozen to death. In water! Yeah… that’ll teach ‘em to think I’m a one note actor!”

Anyway, lacking the funds for good prosthetics or make up the bad-guy/monster/Born Again Christian was only shown with the super cheesy “wavy screen” technology pioneered on "Dr Who" so that you could never focus on him properly.

In any case, we can all rest easy, because they do end up saving the world and we get to see the new sun being born – apparently the bending of space and time that happens in the heart of the sun makes normal flesh impervious to the force of a nuclear explosions, at least temporarily.

And I learned something. Never, ever go to a movie based on the poster alone.

1 comment:

Travis said...

I've perused a lot of bad-movie-review websites - they take up about 5% of the internet, as I'm sure you know - and this was an excellent bad-movie-review. Unfortunately, compared to its competition the main advantage your style has is that you have not worn your soul down to a bleeding stub watching hundreds of terrible, terrible movies.

So, good job, but you can never do it again, that's what I'm saying.