SUNSHINE directed by Danny Boyle, written by Alex Garland, with Cillian Murphy, Cliff Curtis, Rose Byrne and Hiroyuki Sanada. A Fox Searchlight release. 107 minutes. Opens Friday (July 20). Rating: NNNN
Not since Dorothy was swept out of charcoal Kansas and dropped into technicolor Oz will moviegoers be so tempted to slap on a pair of sunglasses as when watching Sunshine.
It's propelled by a gloriously improbable yet supremely blockbuster-worthy premise that would make Michael Bay cream his computer-generated tighty whities. Eight astronauts strap themselves to a nuclear bomb the size of Manhattan and fly it into our dying sun like some sort of cosmic defibrillator. And to tell this story, Sunshine blasts you with the kind of retina-searing visuals that'll have you seeing spots and reaching for the Coppertone.
Thankfully, in the hands of director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland, the result is a Conradian space odyssey into the heart of light, not blind devotion to CGI spectacle.
Never one to sit still genre-wise - Trainspotting is as far removed from A Life Less Ordinary as 28 Days Later is from Millions - Boyle, along with Garland, has hallucinated a claustrophobic sci-fi thriller that travels inward and outward with equal velocity, jabbing a needle into the vein of our queasy contemporary anxieties about global warming while they cover their tracks with astronaut mumbo-jumbo.
Like their zombie reboot, Sunshine borrows from previous genre highlights, notably 2001 and Alien, with a little of Bay's Armageddon (minus the smirks and flag-waving) and John Carpenter's Dark Star (minus the laughs).
Sunshine is serious sci-fi for grownups - the only death star here is a dying one - but there is a trade-off between the science and the fiction. Can a person really survive the vacuum of deep space wrapped only in tinfoil?
Boyle asks for a preposterous leap of faith even as he spacewalks precariously toward metaphorical nonsense, threatening to spin off into a black hole of his own design before being pulled back by genre demands. But Sunshine always remains true to its own internal logic.
After all, at its core this is a men-on-an-impossible-mission movie. As you'd expect, there's conflict among the crew of the pessimistically named Icarus II. When they receive a distress call from the first ship to attempt to jump-start the sun, Capa (28 Days Later's Cillian Murphy), the mission's physicist and the one with his bony finger on the detonator, decides they should override the ship's computer and investigate. One simple human miscalculation later and the crew are at each other's throats.
As the captain (Hiroyuki Sanada) struggles to maintain control and the mission scientist (Michelle Yeoh) works to secure the ship's oxygen supply, the one most capable of restoring calm, the ship psychologist (Cliff Curtis), is experiencing a sunbaked psychosis as his skin begins to peel in papery strips from spending too much time staring at their objective.
Sunshine gets a little lost in space as the Icarus takes on an unexpected passenger and Boyle struggles to deliver a conclusion that eclipses his bold set-up. In the fashion of a true space opera, it is both perplexing and grandly poetic.
But if you like your sci-fi sans light sabres, heed the words of similarly spacey Pink Floyd and set your controls for the heart of the sun.
Just don't forget your shades.