Posts Tagged ‘Science-fiction’



November 11, 2007

Sunshine review

Matt: Four and a half
Tracy: Four Stars

Length: 108min


If the sun dies, so do we.
Dark days are coming.

Review by Matt:

Forget about global warming. In Sunshine’s cold future our beautiful sun has fizzled out. It’s global cooling we have to worry about now. Polluting like crazy hasn’t helped to warm things up (bummer – that would have been such a handy solution). So humanity has resorted to sending an elite team of seven astronauts on a mission to ‘jump-start’ our star by smacking it with a massive bomb – kind of like a stellar defibrillator. Earth has tried this mission once before and failed. Seven years ago a crew of seven astronauts navigated the inauspiciously-named Icarus to the Sun before suddenly vanishing before the mission was completed. An uncomfortable prelude for the new batch of astronauts. Sunshine begins as the tenaciously‑named Icarus II enters the same communication ‘dead-zone’ where the first Icarus disappeared, and is preparing to deliver its crucial payload to save humanity.

Unsurprisingly, the plan does not unfold smoothly. The crew faces a major dilemma when it suddenly detects a distress signal from the drifting Icarus I. What is it doing there? What could possibly have happened to it? The ship’s physicist, Capa (Cillian Murphy), is asked to decide whether the team should deviate to dock with the ship and harvest its unused bomb. Two payloads would mean the team has two chances to jump-start the Sun and save the world and, as Capa puts it, ‘two last hopes are better than one.’ The decision is made and, needless to say, things get complicated. The poor viewer is sucked into a vortex of solar terror.

Sunshine provides some of the best and most tense humans-in-peril viewing around. Director Danny Boyle (best known for Trainspotting and 28 Days Later) is adept at constructing a menacing atmosphere and expertly employs some of the tried and true sci‑fi/mystery/horror filming techniques to achieve it. Consequently it feels occasionally feel like you’re walking through familiar sci-fi territory. At different times during Sunshine I distinctly felt the ghosts of Armageddon, Alien, Event Horizon, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I also sensed a ripple of modern Doctor Who; not only in Sunshine’s plot and mise-en-scene, but in its strong themes of human frailty and noble self sacrifice (the David Tennant incarnation of the Doctor has been particularly big on selflessly offering his own life to save humanity).

Despite the sense of sci-fi familiarity, Sunshine still treads its own path through the genre and it generates an electric (or solar?) experience for its viewers. And anyway, it’s probably near impossible to make a quality space film these days without having some residue of the work that came before. For me the Sunshine experience was also enhanced by the eerie and poetic undertone that Boyle infused into the film. It’s primarily felt through the portrayal of the Sun as a kind of god-like force. It seems appropriate that the representatives of humankind act out our strengths and frailties under this divine solar gaze.

Although Sunshine tells a fairly straightforward story, there’s actually a considerable profundity in the situations that arise and in the characters’ reactions. I found the script (written by Alex Garland, who also wrote The Beach and 28 Days) satisfying in the way it pressures the assortment of characters into making inescapable difficult and moral choices. It devotes time and attention to developing the scenario and the characters, which means the film has a slowish build-up – but this is necessary and it’s worth it. Sunshine’s cast is familiar, but not too well known (Rose Byrne, Chris Evans and Michelle Yeoh would be the most well-known). The actors’ performances are earnest and effective and they solidify the depth of these ‘characters in calamity’.

Many viewers and reviewers were unimpressed with this film. But not me. Sunshine is an unexpected sci-fi gem that tells a great story from start to finish.


DEJA VU (2006)

August 4, 2007

Deja vu review

Deja vu

Matt: Three stars
Tracy:Three and a half Stars

Length: 128min


If you thought it was just a trick of the mind, prepare yourself for the truth.

Review by Matt:

Ahh, the old messing-with-timelines-by-travelling-through-time film. Nothing beats it. Unless you can’t get the timelines to make sense. Then, if you’re like me, instead of enjoying the sci-fi carnival, you stare off to the side thinking about how it could all possibly work. Déjà vu’s clumsy time-travel plot only makes sense if the audience dreams up some creative sub-plots to plug the holes. If you’re going to be satisfied by this film then, I think you’ll have to put the swiss-cheese plot to the side and just sink guiltily into the heady nonsense of a Hollywood thriller for two hours. Fortunately, that’s still a pretty enjoyable experience.

Messy timelines aside, the story is fairly straightforward. Denzel Washington trots out his familiar tenacious cop persona to portray Doug Carlin, a detective investigating a terrible terrorist attack on a New Orleans ferry. Some sharp detecting brings Carlin to the attention of a special FBI team (headed by Val Kilmer), who recruit him to work on the case using the FBI’s new, mind-blowing “God’s eye” technology. The technology somehow harnesses the power of worm-holes to give the detectives the power to look directly into the past with privacy-destroying omniscience. At Carlin’s word the detectives use “God’s eye” primarily to intrude into the past life of a beautiful female victim (Paula Patton), who Carlin had seen at the morgue and – weirdly – fallen in love with. It seems that in Hollywood, it’s always love-at-first-sight, even when one of the lovers is staring with dead eyes from the autopsy table.

The time-bending investigations result in some intense dimension-spanning action. These sequences fully exploit the best parts of the classical Hollywood style. It simplifies potentially complex sequences so that the excitement is maximised. I did feel some amusement at the poor romance plot, and by the film’s indulgences – brought into sharper focus by having recently watched Hot Fuzz parody this kind of excess. The opening ferry-bomb sequence, for example, is constructed with slow-motion visuals and portentous musical cues (and I’m sure I heard the same ominous strings in the recent James Bond film) which manipulate our tensions until the surprising BOOM of the ferry.

But there’s no doubting this style generally works for this film. And there’s also some joy in seeing the disaster in the opening scene. The time-travel plot allows us to revisit the same scene later. This time we’re fully aware of the imminent bomb, so we’re trapped in the fretful “audience knows there’s a bomb” sequence that Hitchcock described as the epitome of suspense. It is quite exciting. As with Breach, Déjà vu passed the “suspenseful enough to make Tracy pace and moan at the edge of the room” test.

It’s when Tracy is at the edge of the room that Déjà vu is at its best. When it’s at its worst, I think, are the moments it flirts too hard with scientific or philosophical concepts. It’s not sharp enough to inject anything insightful into these themes. Keep control of the corners of your mouth when the line arrives “But what if there is more than physics?” and it is punctuated by a soft dramatic sting. The wishy-washy attempt at philosophising also reveals a lurking little goblin: although it embraces hard physics, the film still messily implies that an almighty God decides how the technology works or doesn’t. It’s a bit frustrating; like US politicians, it seems that films want mass appeal so they don’t want to risk seeming too aetheistic. I’d be more forgiving if Déjà vu‘s omniscient being had at least popped in for a moment and explained how the film’s confusing timelines make sense.

So, like its time travel physics, the film has some weaknesses. But there’s not much to hate. Just try to hurdle the slight obstacles, or let the fast-paced action plough through them. Then you’re free to enjoy what is a fairly spiffy sci-fi action flick.