I said that today’s film would be different in terms of genre and I don’t think you can get a bigger contrast than by putting a World War II film beside a futuristic sci-fi drama piece. I’m actually amazed this came out three years ago and I never even noticed it. I never saw a single ad or trailer for it which is a shame because I think if I had then I would have gone to see it. Of course it turns out the film didn’t do so well at the Box Office so that’s probably why nobody has really heard of it. And did I mention that it’s good old Danny Boyle again?
It is the year 2057 and something has happened to the Sun (the star, not the newspaper thankfully). For some reason it is now failing and life on Earth is almost non-existent. We follow a crew of eight scientists/astronauts on the spaceship Icarus II who are tasked with the job of flying towards the Sun and dropping a stellar bomb payload into it, hopefully reigniting it. When the ship starts to pass into the Dead Zone (where they won’t be able to send any messages back home to Earth anymore) and approaches Mercury, the computer picks up a signal from the original Icarus spacecraft that was sent seven years ago for the same mission, but never reached the Sun. The crew is now faced with a risky decision – either they ignore the signal and continue on to the Sun, or they make a detour to the ship and investigate as well as picking up a second payload to double their mission’s chances. What follows is a psychological journey where each of the crew must make choices at the expense of their humanity.
One of the most striking things about this film is indeed its visual effects. Being a sci-fi film set in the future of course it’s going to have a pretty high budget and its own unique interpretation of the future. The design of the Icarus II spacecraft is interestingly done and I can definitely sense some inspiration coming from Alien as well as other films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris. The way the filmmakers imagined how the ship would protect itself against the Sun’s rays was pretty innovative; it has a huge heat shield at the front, designed with hundreds of small mirrors that can be moved to any angle. There’s also another heat shield and solar sail positioned at the other end of the ship. Also the ship has a special garden of plants meant to keep the supply of oxygen coming in regularly, which is a pretty intelligent idea. I can’t believe I never thought of that. Borrowing from what I’m assuming is Star Trek they have a special room called the “Earth Room” where they have holographic projections of various things from Earth to remind them of their homes. The way the payload is designed is pretty imaginative too though it’s a little hard to describe in detail, so I’m going to let the pictures do that for me.
We have an ensemble cast of several international actors, the best known of whom would obviously be Cillian Murphy who plays the physicist Capa. He uses his flawless American accent and portrays Capa as a bit of a loner and an outsider among the crew which probably ties in with how he’s the only crew member to be shown interacting with family back on Earth. Chris Evans who is probably recognised from some of those random perfume ads plays Mace, a more level-headed and straight up take charge type of guy. Mace is the guy who gets things done and he’s pretty much a soldier amongst scientists though he avoids being trigger happy which would make this into an entirely different movie.
One of my favourites Rose Byrne also dons an American accent to play Cassie, the heart of the group. She’s also the pilot and the most emotionally stable of the group which obviously helps her last the journey. Our other female is Michelle Yeoh as Corazon, the ship’s biologist who takes care of the oxygen garden. She’s more spiritual than the other characters and definitely has a deep emotional connection to nature and the like. We also have Mark Strong in a small role which I will not spoil too much.
You will notice from the pictures and of course the names of the actors that we have a pretty diverse cast with three Asians in it. That’s pretty impressive when in Hollywood we’re used to a cast of white people with a token black guy thrown in. This comes from Danny Boyle imagining that 50 years in the future that American and Chinese space programs would be the most developed. Hmm, maybe he should compare notes with Joss Whedon over coffee?
All of my favourite scenes in the film come when Searle, the ship’s doctor, is sitting there trying to look at the Sun. He wears a set of strong sunglasses and has the ship’s shield filtering the sunlight to as much as it will let through. There’s an obvious religious parallel in there and that makes Searle one of the more interesting characters such as when Kaneda is trying to fix the shield while exposed to the sunlight and Searle is desperately asking him “what do you see?”. We get the idea he himself is desperate to see what the Sun looks like when looking through it unfiltered. All those scenes are beautifully designed and acted.
Speaking of a beautifully-designed scene, the final climactic moment when the payload is set off is one of the most stunning things I’ve ever seen and I can’t even imagine how the filmmakers thought it up. It manages to be both intense and calming at the same time, if that makes any sense at all. There’s also a nice little scene between Capa and Cassie where she tells him about how every night she has dreams that she’s standing on the surface of the sun.
There you have it – Danny Boyle’s Magnum Opus if you will. I don’t know if he considers this to be his best film but I think it’s definitely well made and should be up there on many other “best of” lists. As for the Box Office, well the film was just unlucky and it didn’t make back its budget but at least it wasn’t as big a bomb as Waterworld or Cutthroat Island. And if we’re taking scientific accuracy into account then just forget about that as well. I don’t watch films to poke holes in the laws of science or whatever, unless it’s really that obvious to the average person, so just take it as Rule of Cool and be thankful that we have a beautiful film that actually embodies the sci-fi genre as it was originally defined: “the human spirit meeting the challenges of nature by embracing technology and reason”. Now that’s definitely profound. Anyway let’s all take a few minutes today to go out and appreciate the fact that we have sun...and then let’s go inside and spend the rest of the day at the computer where we all follow Bobby on Twitter.