20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Michelle Yeoh, Chris Evans,
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Deleted Scenes, Clips, Short Films, Video Comentary, Alternate Ending, Trailers
Most of our viewers are probably familiar with the name Danny Boyle as the director of the incredible and furious horror shocker "28 Days Later, " the break-out hit of two years ago. Boyle now returns with a new film called "Sunshine" and who would have thought that the guy can cover such a wide palette. From one of the most riveting horror films he makes an almost 180 degree turn and delivers a character driven science fiction drama that is intelligent, deliberate and heartfelt. Fear not, however, because especially the film's final 30 minutes clearly carry the Boyle signature that fans are probably most familiar with.
The sun is dying. It is burning out very rapidly and if it should die, all life on earth will, of course, die as well. In order to survive, mankind has created a mission to kickstart the ailing star. A gigantic bomb is to be delivered to the sun and detonated to create a star within a star. The spaceship "Icarus" is destined to deliver the payload to the sun but one day it disappears without any trace. Seven years later, mankind tries again. It is a desperate last-ditch effort upon which the survival of al mankind hinges. If "Icarus II" should fail to deliver its payload, it will mean the inevitable end of mankind.
Aboard the "Icarus II" is a mixed group of biologists, physicists, and other scientists, all eagerly looking forward to the success of their mission. After 16 months in space they pick up the distress signal of the original "Icarus" and decide to alter their course to pick up their payload as well. After all having two shots at saving mankind is better than one! But with the unexpected course change come unexpected problems and soon the "Icarus II" finds itself spinning out of control under conditions the ship and the crew were not prepared for.
The premise of "Sunshine" is not entirely novel and frequently the movie conjures up memories of films such as "Alien" and "Event Horizon." However these resemblances are superficial and merely a result of the subject matter rather than a desire to copy elements from any of those films. Instead, "Sunshine" rapidly creates its very own identity and dazzles the viewer with a storyline that is slowly building as we learn more about the characters that make up the crew if the "Icarus II." Fortunately for all of us, there are non of the stereotypical tough-as-nails-dumb-as-bread kind of military guys anywhere and the closest we get to it is the character of Maze (Chris Evans) who plays the opposition to the general consensus to alter the mission's course. He does so in a very realistic fashion however, lightly understated, dissatisfied with the decision, but following the general consensus once the decision has been reached. It is also great to see Michelle Yeoh back on the big screen as the ship's biologist, while Cillian Murphy plays the movie's main character, the physicist Cappa, on whose shoulders rest many of the mission's most critical decisions. As such it is barely surprising that the majority of the film is spent on elaborating on his emotions and behavior under the pressure.
"Sunshine" is also a very beautiful film. The brutal and omnipresent blackness of outer space is wonderfully balanced out with vista shots of the sun that will give many viewers a new understanding for the beauty, the majesty and grandeur of the star that provides for our life every single day. There are also a series of wonderful fly-by shots of Mercury that I found utterly mesmerizing giving me the impression that I was privileged to actually see this planet with my own eyes regardless of the fact that it was all computer generated effects, of course. But it is this kind of intimacy that makes out "Sunshine" and places you right in the story amidst the crew of the "Icarus II."
After having seen snippets of "Sunshine" on Blu-Ray a few weeks ago during a presentation over at the Fox lot, I was eager to get my hands on this release and explore it for myself. It definitely was worth the wait. This transfer is a sight for sore yes and reproduces the wonders of outer space travel like no film before. One of the most striking things about the transfer was that I had no idea my TV set could create blacks like this. There are countless scenes in the film where we see "Icarus II" float through space in complete blackness and all that is visible are the guiding lights on the ship's superstructure, slowly pitching and rolling through space, creating small light pools that illuminate parts of the ship. Despite all the blackness however you never get the sense that the transfer is losing information or detail, it is just that it produces such amazing blacks that you feel as if you are floating in the void yourself. In addition, colors are incredibly rich as to bring out the most of the wonderful cinematography that has been deliberately designed to contrast light and dark to extremes.
Interiors shots are incredibly detailed and the 1080p transfer brings out every little nuance in the production design. The seams in the hull, individual strands of hair, the labeling on computer terminals, skin imperfections and more. It is all there and it will amaze you.
In terms of the audio presentation, "Sunshine" shines brightly with a DTS HD audio track, which means we have here a lossless master quality audio track that leaves absolutely nothing to be desired in terms of its implementation. I found the mix a tad too aggressive for my taste, creating incredibly loud moments while dialogues were at room level. Other than that, the mix is superbly delineated and has very good spatial integration. The music is wonderfully matched up to the atmosphere of the film and has a wide sound field for maximum effect.
First in the department of special features on this release you will find two commentary tracks. The first one features director Danny Boyle as he discusses many fo the film's technical aspects in quite some detail. To my big surprise, this is not a casual track as Boyle is getting down to the wire on many of the shots talking a lot of tech.
The second commentary by Dr. Brian Cox, who was the technical advisor on the film. This commentary by comparison is extremely entertaining and also relays a wealth of information. Cox discusses mostly the scientific background of the film and for anyone interested in serious science fiction facts, this is the track to check out.
The release was highly anticipated because it if the first Blu-Ray disc to make use of the format's 1.1 profile, which allows among other things, picture-in-picture streams. To make use of the technology, "Sunshine" has included an "Enhanced Viewing Mode" in which you will see snippets of video commentary throughout the film. However, this is not a commentary that runs the entire length. Only a few selected scenes contain this additional information. While making a good impression, the wealth of information relayed here is rather slim in actuality.
Another feature of the Blu-Ray 1.1 profile is real time audio mixing – a necessity in order to make picture-in-picture a reality as sound streams from both videos streams need to be mixed as they play. Of course this can be put to different use also, as evidenced in "Journey Into Sound" where the viewer can take the sound engineer's chair and play around with the sound elements for different scenes. You can jockey these elements around the 5.1 mix and see for yourself what the impact of certain sound placement is in the overall mix. It is a nice gimmick.
Next up on the release are 11 deleted scenes on the disc, complete with optional commentary by director Danny Boyle. Also included here is an alternate ending with the directors commentary as an option.
You will find a whopping 23 web diaries on the disc also, but they are what they are, documentaries for the internet with minimal running lengths and little to no real informative value. They are short teaser clips with a few behind-the-scenes blurps.
More interesting fare the short films on the disc. Although they have absolutely nothing to do with "Sunshine" and do not even involve the director or anyone affiliated with "Sunshine," Boyle decided to include these short films to give other independent filmmakers a chance to get seen by wide audience. It is certainly a friendly move on the director's behalf and in fact, these short films are quite good.
Look also for a number of trailers for Fox movies on the disc, all presented in glorious high definition.
As you can probably tell by now, I thoroughly enjoyed "Sunshine." I will have to point out however that it is not a film for everyone. "Sunshine" has a very deliberate pace. A pace that reminds me much more of Stanley Kubrik's "2001: A Space Odyssey" than of modern science fiction fare. It leaves room for the viewer's own thoughts and reflections and takes time to lavish in the extraordinary visuals. However, when drama strikes, it strikes hard and as I mentioned before, the film's last 30 minutes are every bit as frantic as any scene in "28 Days Later" and also includes that same indelibly evil nightmare feel.
The Blu-Ray version that Fox is serving up here is one of the format's most advanced at this point in time. Making use of Blu-Ray's Java 1.1 profile the disc features a picture-in-picture video commentary that allows you to take a look behind the scenes as the film plays along. While I am personally not a big fan of picture-in-picture features I can acknowledge their usefulness for many people and it is great to finally see this feature incorporated on Blu-Ray discs.
For fans of thinking-man's science fiction "Sunshine" is a must-view and on this Blu-Ray disc a most-own film. Don't expect sensational alien action here but instead look for subtle interaction between people on a once-in-a-lifetime mission that may very well mean their own death.