Our Daily Trailer: SUNSHINE

Smart Sci-Fi Week continues as BC takes a look at SUNSHINE.

The great thing about revisiting this Sunshine spot is the reminder that it features the Requiem For A Dream score, which used to be the go-to for lots and lots of movie trailers. Nowadays, a lot of them use, well, John Murphy's score for Sunshine (X-Men: Days of Future Past is a recent example), so it's kind of perfect, like a passing of the torch (now I have to go back and see what score Requiem's trailer used. Aliens? Dragonheart?). Both Requiem and Sunshine were not very successful films at the box office (they each grossed a mere $3.6m, in fact), so it's likely that more people have heard their scores in the trailers for bigger films than in their proper context. Kinda funny, kinda sad.

Anyway, this remains my favorite Danny Boyle movie of the ones I have seen, because it's basically a smarter version of Armageddon, in that it concerns a bunch of well-liked actors going into space for a ridiculous sounding mission that requires lots of death and sacrifice in order to save the world. In this case, the plan is to restart the sun, which is dying, by dropping a nuke into it (here it actually tops Armageddon - while Michael Bay settled for a pretty typical looking one that could be carried by just a couple of guys, this one is "the size of Manhattan"). As all movie space missions do, things go wrong, and the film offers some pretty great action while limiting the scope to just the seven or eight heroes on the ship, keeping the tension high where Armageddon occasionally deflated it by returning to ground control for something as if it was just as exciting as Bruce Willis in space.

But it's not the action that drew me to Sunshine (I think I saw it three times theatrically), and it wasn't just the score - it was the smaller, much cooler moments that were nothing like I had personally seen in such fare before. One character seemingly wants to just look at the sun up close, and there's something particularly awesome and terrifying about the moment where they are 36 million miles away from the sun and he is told by the ship's computer that he will go blind if he looks at a mere 4% of its brightness (he settles for 3.1%, which will blind him if he looks for more than 30 seconds). Then there was the character of Mace, played by pre-Captain America Chris Evans (hmm, Evans, a giant transport, a multi-national cast, a post-apocalyptic scenario, a cool foreign director... this seems familiar), who had a preternatural ability to think logically in life or death situations. He knows he's not the most important guy on the ship, and constantly offers solutions to problems that would leave him or others dead, knowing that the ultimate goal is the delivery of the bomb and that their individual lives are not nearly as important. So many such films seem to forget the stakes in favor of more exciting on-screen action, leaving such "for the greater good" thinking to older characters who were just going to sit around anyway - it was just so unique to see the guy who SHOULD be the one doing the action hero stunts saying "Myself and this guy need to die so that you can live long enough to play your part in this mission" (not an exact quote).

Mace is also a pretty hilarious character, offering several great lines ("We might get picked off one at a time by aliens.") that are funny enough to make the audience laugh but not so funny that it ever diffuses the tension of the scenario. Then again, he's also the most level headed one, so that might help keep it from being a distraction too - hard to roll your eyes and say "No more jokes right now" to the only guy who is making sense at certain times. The emotional beats also work well; there are no major scenes set on Earth (the epilogue and a few simulations are the only diversions), and normally that might pose a problem for this kind of thing, but even though we never see much of their families or anyone else they're trying to save, their sacrifices and goodbyes still carry the same weight they would if the movie offered us an hour of them on Earth before taking off. It may sound odd coming from me, but the only thing that doesn't really work is when it turns into a horror movie near the end, as the survivors are menaced by a crazed crew member (his identity is sort of a spoiler, and since I pay no attention to DVD/Blu-ray numbers I'm going to assume a lot of you still haven't seen the film).

I don't know why the film failed to catch on; it had a weird summer slot and opened in limited release, which didn't help, but after a ten-screen opening that produced a healthy per screen average, the film completely flopped on its second week expansion, as if everyone who wanted to see it had lived in one of those ten cities and saw it already. I know the third act developments weren't loved, but I didn't think it was hated, i.e. something that would spawn bad word of mouth or an F Cinemascore, and there was nothing similar of note to compete against (plus the R rating should have appealed to older audiences that were left cold by that summer's PG-13 genre fare such as Transformers and 1408). Plus, by that point Boyle had made a name for himself in the genre thanks to 28 Days Later, so it stands to reason that curiosity alone would propel it to a decent bow. But no - it came in behind Who's Your Caddy?, for Christ's sake.

Hopefully the film has found its audience. Surely with so many now-stars in its cast (Evans, Rose Byrne, Mark Strong), and Boyle's increased exposure post-Slumdog Millionaire, it must be the sort of thing that gets rented on disc or watched on cable enough that it has a fanbase, right? If not, well, we'll always have "Adagio In D Minor."