Saturday, April 07, 2007

Danny Boyle's Sunshine: Now I've Seen It, I Can Knock It With More Authority

Danny Boyle's Sunshine just isn't as good as you've heard. The idea is fair enough, neither special nor ridiculous. The cast too are quite a strong bunch, but nothing to write home about. Alwin Kuchler's cinematography is far more than competent but his collaborations with Boyle don't ever acheive anything as pioneering or awe inspiring as did Derek Vanlint and Ridley Scott on Alien or Geoffrey Unsworth and Stanley Kubrick on 2001.

For the most part, the problems stem from Alex Garland's script. Again, there's a fair smattering of strong moments - Harvey's apology to Capa, for example - but there's far more mediocrity and lots and lots of confusions and contradictions.

When Billy Wilder said "If you have a problem with the end of your script, really the problem is with the beginning" he must have meant "really the problem is with the end AND the beginning". He's not suggesting the ending is correct and the beggining should be moved to meet it, he's suggesting that there's a structural fault and that, as a result, a change must be made. More often than not, both ending and beginning - or that is, set-up and pay-off - will be altered. So, to explore one example of Sunshine's dicky structure, when Mace grabs his tool from the coolant and gets iced over (as it were) in a fraction of a second, this implication is no more at fault, really, than when he later plunges into the coolant for much longer, and mutliple times, without turning into a human icicle. The contradiction is the issue and as a result, there's confusion and the film doesn't seem to play fair, and when the film isn't playing fair, all suspense disappears in the mind of an attentive, observant audience.

So, the popular opinion that Sunshine is very good until the last act isn't harsh enough. The many mistakes in the last part are echoed and rooted in the earlier sequences of the film.

But the end of Sunshine actually is much worse than the already-whiffy first two acts. For one thing, the screen geography and geometry - handled with competence in a fair amount of the earlier material - go to blazes (pun intended). Also, we meet a mad killer character that enacts a convenient action climax that simply left me dumbstruck. He's just dumped into the plot, requiring a certain amount of disbelief-hoisting, and then, with nothing like believable human psychology, he sets about killing people and babbling quasireligious nonsense. This business has been rightly compared to Event Horizon - but it's even worse.

This slasher sequence is where Boyle's camerawork and cinematographic conceits get the most out of hand. There's hardly anything like a reasonable cut to be seen and the images are wildly distorted. At first the idea seems to be that the impressionistic defacement of the image represent the damage that exposure to the now extremely-nearby Sun has caused to the villain's eyes. Of course, though, the effect isn't limited to his pov shots - even though it was heralded by his appearance and there's no doubt that what it is trying to suggest is related to his optical disability.

There's a few (hokey) explanations possible for this, and the most likely of them makes as little sense as the other excuses I could cook up. Let's stick with "The exposure to the sun has damaged his eyes so much, not only his but everybody's vision has been damaged. Even that of the supposedly-objective overhead camera angle we sometimes see". I know that doesn't make any sense, but trust me, it's the most rational explanation for what you'll see. What would you prefer? "He's such an ungodly sight that his entrance alters everybody's senses"?

I could go on about Sunshine for hours, it really is that interesting in it's curious catalogue of errors, pretentions and contradictions. Maybe I will. Any questions?


Anonymous said...

THANK YOU for stating the obvious. Finally!

After Mark Kermode's gushing review in the Observer about how this is 'grown up' sci-fi, I was thrilled - then duly disappointed when I saw the actual thing. Not so outraged by the wild cutting of the final act as you - indeed, it's the only thing that woke me up from my "meh" slumber - but otherwise, I'm with you on the debunking... good job!

Gus said...

You know Brendon, I really love your blog and respect your opinions. But man, we do have very different tastes in movies.

Brendon said...

This sounds interesting Gus... sounds like you can now step up to the plate and make the case for Sunshine.

Better that than just me harping on.

BC said...

I liked it... sorry! Hahah. Then again I consider Armageddon to be one of the finest films ever made, so perhaps that's an inverse slam on the film.

trickledown said...

"The radius of the sun at 696,000 km is 109 times the Earth's radius. Its surface gravity is 274 m/s2 or 28.0 times that of the Earth. "

I assumed that the visual mixups and cut-ups during the action sequences at the end of the film are due to the increased gravitational effect of the sun--28 times that of the Earth's gravitational pull. Perhaps it's like the concept of an event horizon, black holes, etc--perhaps being that close to the sun with its increased gravitational pull would alter our perception of time and space. I think that's what the visual effects represented. I think it would be ridiculous to portray a ship approaching the surface of the sun, and for there to be no noticeable effects at all, like, ho-hum, we're approaching the sun's surface, nice how everything is exactly like if we were in an office building back home on Earth!

Brendon said...

That's very generous of you, Trickledown. And you are most liekly right... but for the fact that these particular effects are not sensible or reasonable representations of the phenomena you mention.

They're daft and distancing conceits.