Saw a remarkable film last night - Danny Boyle's latest quality Brittywood offering, Sunshine. It is remarkable for two reasons - it is a British movie, filmed for around $40M, about a a quarter to a fifth of a comparable Hollywood movie, but of the same quality in terms of the production design and the (mesmerizingly beautiful) special effects.
However, it is more remarkable that in an era when most science fiction movies seem to rely on space battles and gimmicks to appeal to thirteen year old males, this was rare, old fashioned piece of intelligent, hard(ish) sci-fi. OK, so it plays fast a loose with some of the laws of physics (sound in space, artificial gravity, etc, etc.), and the last half hour falls apart in to a confusing and unnecessary sub-plot leading to a still relatively satisfying, if hard to follow climax. But the first hour or so it is a slow, meditative, thoughtful and above, visually stunning piece in the tradition of Solaris, 2001 and Silent Running.
Obviously, Boyle has cited these as influences, and they are all there (will not show off all the references I picked up, but they were delightfully subtle in places, from the lone seedling clutched in dying fingers, to the escape into an airlock using the pressure of atmosphere vented in to space as propulsion, and the computer voice slowing and slurring as its circuits were disconnected). Above all though, it is the image of the spaceship, alone, out of contact with Earth, years from home and facing great peril that is one of those iconic SF images that is refreshingly recycled here. I had the image of the ship behind its gigantic shield, protecting it from the heat, radiation and glare of our dying sun buzzing round my head for hours as I went to sleep.
Above all it did what all good science fiction must do, and hold a mirror up to the concerns of our own world and times (particularly environmental issues). It also looks at how a single decision, made with the best will and best logic in the world can lead to an expanding tree of unintended consequences and probabilities that cannot be seen from outset - as Cillian Murphy's character points out early on - there comes a point where the probabilities are so infinite that you just have to make a good guess. But that guess has moral, ethical and practical consequences that other people have to live with. There are no shortage of current events that this problem echoes!
Oh, and the soundtrack by Underworld is hauntingly beautiful and atmospheric - good to see those guys back doing what they do best.
If only the last third of the film had been as good as the first two thirds, it would be justifiably called a classic. Maybe, even with this flaw, it will be seen that way in the future.