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Sunshine DVD Review

Sunshine (2007) movie poster Sunshine

US Theatrical Release: July 20, 2007 / Running Time: 107 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Danny Boyle / Writer: Alex Garland

Cast: Rose Byrne (Cassie), Cliff Curtis (Dr. Searle), Chris Evans (Mace), Troy Garity (Harvey), Cillian Murphy (Robert Capa), Hiroyuki Sanada (Capt. Kaneda), Mark Strong (Capt. Pinbacker), Benedict Wong (Trey), Michelle Yeoh (Corazon), Chipo Chung (Voice of Icarus)

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With their critically-acclaimed 28 Days Later, British writer Alex Garland and director Danny Boyle proved both that the zombie film was ripe for a new twist and that they could make a really good horror movie in their first try. For this year's sequel, 28 Weeks Later, Garland and Boyle took somewhat of a back seat, serving as executive producers while letting unexpectedly competent people hold the reins.
Garland and Boyle did, however, have a 2007 film that they were more personally involved in: Sunshine, a science fiction thriller given an American release so limited this summer that it made the Later films look like box office titans by comparison.

The distribution does not accurately reflect the quality, for Sunshine is as worthy of your time and attention as the filmmakers' first collaboration and its spirited sequel. In fact, many -- particularly those more compelled by outer space than bloody gore -- will find Sunshine a more rewarding experience.

Sunshine opens at some point in the future; I don't remember getting a date, but many sources and the Japanese title claim it's 2057. Mankind is facing an apocalypse due to the fact that the Earth's sun is dying. A mission to reignite the giant life source has mysteriously failed and it is now up to a second ship, Icarus II, to get the job done and save the planet by dropping a giant bomb on the surface of the sun.

Robert Capa (Cillian Murphy) records a video message for his relatives back on Earth. Corazon (Michelle Yeoh), Capa, Trey (Benedict Wong), and Cassie (Rose Byrne) take a look their high-tech flight plan.

The film does an amazing job of introducing the eight members of the spacecraft in a way that's both seamless and enlightening. They include: our opening narrator, the physicist Robert Capa (Cillian Murphy, of 28 Days Later), the temperamental technician Mace (Chris Evans, the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four films), the level-headed Captain Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada, Rush Hour 3), the sunlight-obsessed psychiatrist Dr. Searle (Cliff Curtis), and a pair of collected females, biologist Corazon (Michelle Yeoh of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and pilot Cassie (Rose Byrne, 28 Weeks Later).

Though the premise suggests the far-fetchedness of Armageddon, it's played without sentimentality and broad jokes, giving the film the feel of some highly revered sci-fi classics. Alien immediately comes to mind for its small cast, claustrophobic quarters, and touchy crew camaraderie. Meanwhile, the presence of a calm, emotive ship computer voice as well as the filming of outer space scenery and efforts all hark back to 2001: A Space Odyssey, only with shorter shots and more attention to plot. As should be evident from the comparisons, the filmmakers (and Boyle in particular), appear to be well versed in the genre even without prior experience in it. As a result, Sunshine is very skillfully composed.

The mission of Icarus II becomes fraught with moral dilemma when a distress signal appears to be sent from the downed Icarus I. Should the crew follow their initial plans and head straight to the sun or change course and check in on their presumed dead predecessors? This is the first big issue to face the international team, but others soon follow. Once again, the film excels at striking just the right tone. The questions do not have clear-cut answers, but the pressing matters are ones of unquestionable human interest. The considerations are scientific, but not to the point of ostracizing viewers. There's plenty of exposition, but the viewer still feels an active participant and able to come up with his or her own perspective, which they're apt to reevaluate as situations develop.

Capa and Mace (Chris Evans) stare each other down, while the two women in between them stay out of it. The slit on Capa's suit allows him to observe space in an extremely wide aspect ratio.

In its final act, Sunshine moves in a surprising direction and one which I wasn't crazy about. Boyle and Garland's previous union should make it a bit expected


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and just as in Alien and 2001, some horror serves to raise suspense and viewer interest. Sunshine is as involving in its end as it ever is; it is just not the logical conclusion to what we've been leading to. Still, while not as emotionally satisfying as what it precedes, the end can't be labeled a letdown or do much to lessen one's opinion of the film as a whole.

Personally, my opinion of Sunshine is pretty high. As with 28 Days Later, Garland and Boyle here provide for a genre essentially dormant a most exciting return. Being more familiar with spaceship films than zombie ones, Sunshine did more for me than Days. I certainly didn't lament the relative paucity of blood. Still, I can understand that people might consider Sunshine subdued, or lacking the bark, bite, and constant threat of the Rage virus. I can't really sympathize with them, though, for the film is rich with ideas and succeeds at presenting them in a highly compelling manner.

All the various elements of the film work as intended. The globally-gathered cast serves the production well with performances that are understated but evocative. The visual effects do not exist for show; they convey the complexities of the universe without looking like CGI and green screen work. Cinematography, production design, and editing merit mention, as does another fine score by Boyle regular John Murphy, who here is blended with techno duo Underworld.

Buy Sunshine on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English),
Dolby Surround (English for Visually Impaired, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: January 8, 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $14.98 (Reduced from $29.99)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Also available on Blu-ray Disc

VIDEO and AUDIO

Sunshine is certainly a visually striking film. I can't imagine having to watch it reformatted for fullscreen dimensions, but that's not an option, since Fox issues it on DVD and Blu-ray exclusively in its 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. I didn't have the final version to review, but this overly compressed watermarked screener didn't disappoint in its ability to expertly deliver bright and dark scenes alike. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack also proves to be remarkable and intense, rendering the film's many atmospheric effects in a pleasing, effective manner.

Michelle Yeoh picks carrots in the ship's oxygen garden in a deletion director Danny Boyle calls an homage to a memorable Harry Dean Stanton scene from "Alien." Actor Troy Garity plays with a stick of gum at zero gravity in one of the first of 23 Web Production Diaries shorts. These six piles of sidewalk dirt are the star of the bonus short "Mole Hills"

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Director Danny Boyle has recorded an audio commentary on his own. He's a very engaging speaker and consistently holds our attention as he points out specific techniques, discusses scientific and cinematic inspirations,
and reveals plenty about the film's dramatic intentions. For being without company, Boyle has a wealth of information to share about his creative processes, which he does in an in interesting way, talking well into the end credits.

A second audio commentary features the film's scientific consultant, Dr. Brian Cox of the University of Manchester. It's not everyone who will want to watch a sci-fi movie and hear about what's realistic and what isn't, but those with a scientific bent might enjoy hearing from the man who in some ways inspired the Cillian Murphy character. Overall, it's an okay track, with some lulls and occasional stretches in which Cox merely narrates or analyzes the dramatics. If you're not a science buff and you've only got time for one commentary, I'd recommend Boyle's.

Nineteen minutes of deleted scenes are separated into two groups and five additional sequences. There are some good little moments here, as we spend more time with each of the characters and learn a little about them. Aside from the short alternate ending which pales to the actual one, most other scenes are leisurely paced and, though disposable, very welcome as supplements. The material is presented with sage optional commentary by Danny Boyle.

Asked to serve as the entirety of behind-the-scenes video are 23 Web Production Diaries (47:40) that were made available on Fox Searchlight's official website. They tackle the film from an array of perspectives, documenting the cast's zero-G pre-production flights, addressing the themes and science, checking in with the voice of Icarus, discussing the effects and design, and so on. The format of shorts with endless title and copyright appearances doesn't trump a single documentary and they're more geared at people who haven't yet seen the film, but these valuable vignettes are still easy to enjoy here.

Next up are two short films. Dad's Dead (6:53), directed by Chris Shepherd, is a rough, jumpy coming-of-age tale narrated by Ian Hart. Mole Hills (6:10), directed by Dan Arnold, is more experimental: it merely observes a series of sidewalk sand hills in sporadic spurts. Before either one plays, a skippable audio intro from Danny Boyle justifies their inclusion.

Rounding out the disc is Sunshine's alluring theatrical trailer (1:55). Other trailers play at the start of the disc for Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, The Hills Have Eyes 2, and 28 Days Later.

Set to an excerpt of the rock score, the animated main menu cycles through a variety of cast images that are given warm colorings. Submenus are silent, static and simple, but maintain the solar motif of reds, oranges, and yellows.

Bono was right. He's clearly not the only one staring at the sun. Cassie gives Capa a big toothy smile that doesn't quite put him at ease before having to venture out into space.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A new sci-fi film that reminds me of 2001, Alien, and The Thing, Sunshine gets a lot right. It's not perfect, but it comes close and among recent entries to the genre, it stands as one of the most intelligent, worthwhile and pure. After winning me over with a horrible virus and now a spacecraft story, I'm eager to see what writer Alex Garland and director Danny Boyle might next tackle together.

Barely a blip on Hollywood's radar and only a little more noticed in the rest of the world, Sunshine is one of those films that deserve to be seen by a lot more people. Now that you know about it, the burden is on you to see it and spread the word. Fox's fine DVD makes it all the more enticing to do so, with substantial bonus content adding definite value.

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Reviewed January 11, 2008.



Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2007 Fox Searchlight, DNA Films, and the UK Film Council and 2008 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
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