- Street Date:
- January 8th, 2008
- Reviewed by:
- Peter Bracke
- Review Date: 1
- January 3rd, 2008
- Movie Release Year:
- Fox Home Entertainment
- 107 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Rated R
- Release Country
- United States
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
There are two kinds of science fiction films. Those that really are really just old-fashioned serials with newfangled special effects (sorry, George Lucas), and those that truly attempt to imagine an alternate future. Don’t get me wrong -- I enjoy lightsaber fights as much as the next guy, but even the most flawed sci-fi film can be rewarding if its filmmakers make a genuine attempt to challenge our notions of where humanity might be headed, while the best examples of the genre ('2001,' 'Blade Runner') fall squarely into this category of "thinking persons sci-fi."
Danny Boyle's 'Sunshine' is a film that earns this distinction. Working with screenwriter Alex Garland, Boyle has crafted that true rarity of the genre -- an story not based on a novel or other known source material, but one that remains classic sci-fi through-and-through. 'Sunshine' may ultimately be an imperfect film, but for most of its riveting 107-minute runtime, it's brimming with ideas and excitement, and it has moments that are simply sublime in their balancing of action, exploration and otherworldly wonder.
Our tale begins fifty years in the future. The sun is burning out at an accelerated rate, which will spell the end of mankind and any hope for life in our galaxy. A team of astronauts and researchers are sent on a spaceship called the Icarus to inject a massive bomb in the sun in order to give it a much-needed burst of solar energy. Unfortunately, the mission is not successful, and the ship is never heard from again. Enter the Icarus II and a new crew, with the same mission. Once again, things quickly go awry, as the Icarus II receives a message from its supposedly deceased predecessor, and a series of incidents begin to suggest that something may not be entirely right with the known fabric of time and space.
It is here that I began to worry a little bit about while watching 'Sunshine.' Years of suffering through crap sci-fi monster yarns prepared me for the inevitable descent into schlock melodrama and B-movie gore. But there are no chest-bursters in 'Sunshine' -- no man-in-a-rubber suit, and no cheesy 'Abyss'-style sentimental alien encounters. My frown slowly melted into a relieved grin as I realized that Boyle and Garland were sticking to their metaphysical guns. Though 'Sunshine' has its fair share of action, there is little pandering to short attention spans with cheap shock gimmicks. As the crew of the Icarus II begins to discover the secrets of the previous mission, and hurtles precariously toward their own demise, the film uses established conventions not to weasel out of its initial themes, but to explore them in a commercial, accessible way. Miraculously, even the most obvious elements in 'Sunshine' don't make it feel like a sellout. In its intelligence and refusal to kowtow to mere horror-show cynicism, 'Sunshine' is arguably the first modern sci-fi film since 'Blade Runner' to rightly earn the comparison to the ornate, stately science fiction classics of the '70s, such as '2001,' 'Silent Running' and 'Andromeda Strain.'
Boyle also proves with 'Sunshine' that he is a filmmaker who continues to grow in his technical prowess and stylistic acumen. 'Sunshine' boasts terrific special effects, but Boyle is adept at never letting them overwhelm the story. Likewise, the film’s technology is not overdone to the point where we can't buy that it's only fifty years in the future. Boyle is also the rare filmmaker who truly understands how to integrate music with precision into his narrative, and the near-hypnotic score by Underworld is almost like another character in the movie. The combined effect of the visuals, the music and the production design is, at times, transformative.
Alas, 'Sunshine' misses it shot at true greatness with its resolution. The third act of the film has polarized critics and audiences, with many ultimately overwhelmed with confusion. Sadly, I have to agree. I wouldn't dream of ruining any of the film's surprises, but I will say that my suspicions early in the picture turned out to be largely accurate, and I was disappointed that I wasn't truly surprised by the climax. I wish Boyle and Garland had refused to tie up the film in such a neat, pat manner. Films like '2001' remain so indelible because they pose more questions than they answer, and 'Sunshine' would have likely been a better film had it taken this route. Still, this remains the rare modern sci-fi film that actually made me think, and for that reason alone, it earns my heartfelt recommendation.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
'Sunshine' comes to Blu-ray in a spiffy 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer, framed at 2.35:1. It's another fine new release from Fox, and coming off of such other recent A-list efforts as 'Live Free or Die Hard' and 'The Simpsons Movie,' the studio definitely seems to be on a winning streak.
'Sunshine' is a somewhat stylized film, but it’s not so processed that realism is sacrificed. The print is clean, though grain is sometimes obvious and inconsistent in its intensity. Colors are muted in some aspects (mostly skintones, which look a purposefully sickly green), while flashes of yellow, orange and green are much more saturated and striking. Stability is very good, with little oversaturation or chroma noise. 'Sunshine' has a nicely detailed look, particularly in close-ups, with fine textures clearly visible and good depth even to long shots filled with CGI. Blacks are nice and tight, with contrast well-balanced across the entire grayscale, resulting in very good shadow delineation.
Keeping 'Sunshine' from my top tier of favorite Blu-ray releases is some persistent noise. It's most obvious on solid white patches, and there's enough of it that it can be distracting. The image also looks a bit flatter in the mid-range, which lessens three-dimensionality, and prevents the kind of "pop" common to the very best high-def transfers I've seen. At least there are no major compression artifacts (such as banding or macroblocking). Overall, 'Sunshine' stands tall as a very fine, very striking high-def presentation.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Fox delivers another DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track for 'Sunshine,' and it gets the full 48kHz/24-bit treatment. Although I found the film's sound design a bit too reserved at times, when it does kick in, this mix really cranks. (Note that this disc also contains standard Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround tracks in English, French and Spanish, each at 448kbps.)
Let me say right up front that I was disappointed that the film's sound designers weren't more audacious with the surrounds. There are some beautifully lyrical passages in 'Sunshine,' which are accompanied by all sorts of ethereal sound effects and a hypnotic score by the band Underworld. Alas, the mix is just too front heavy. The rears just never come alive with sustained ambiance or tension. Since the film is also more of a mood piece than an action film a la 'ALIENS,' that means that only the most aggressive moments feature any noticeable discrete effects.
That said, when all cylinders are firing, 'Sunshine' is first-rate. Dynamics are forceful, and the clarity and cleanliness of the recording is excellent. Low bass moves the subwoofer nicely, and dialogue is never sacrificed for sledgehammer bombast. I was also really impressed by how the score almost floats out of the front speakers -- if only the same effect filled up the complete 360-degree soundfield, 'Sunshine' would have been a five-star experience.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
Continuing to support day-and-date releases on Blu-ray, 'Sunshine' is hitting stores simultaneously with the standard DVD. This high-def version shares all the same extras as the DVD (and even throws in some great exclusives -- see the section below for those), so there is no concern about missing out. Even without the Blu-ray exclusive material, this would be a fine package in its own right, and one that doesn't sacrifice flash for substance.
- Audio Commentaries - There are two separate tracks on the disc, both solo commentaries. The first is with director Danny Boyle, who is apparently quite obsessed with technical minutia. I half-expected him to start discussing focal lengths and split diopters. Thankfully, he does balance it out (more so towards the conclusion of the track) with some comments on the film's themes, especially the more confusing aspects of the story’s climax.
The second track is certainly unique, and I found it to be a most pleasant surprise. Featuring Dr. Brian Cox of the University of Manchester (was also the film's technical advisor), I braced myself for endless dry discussion of the film's science and metaphysics. But Cox is an engaging, affable speaker, and rather than coming off as some boring science professor, he remains engaging throughout. I found it fascinating to hear a sci-fi flick deconstructed in a logical, understandable way, and Cox is even chipper while pointing out minor inaccuracies in the film's technology. This track won’t be for everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
- Deleted Scenes (SD, 13 minutes) - There are seven "scenes" in all, though a couple are really just spliced together extensions of existing material. Boyle provides optional commentary, which is helpful, particularly on a couple of scenes that clarify some of the more confusing points in the movie (they arguably should have been left in). Note that while this material is formatted for 16:9 screens, it’s presented in 480p/AVC MPEG-4 video only.
- Web Production Diaries (SD, 38 minutes) - Originally produced for the internet to help prime the promotional pump leading up to the film's theatrical release, there are 23 “diary entries” in all. It's mostly fly-on-the-wall stuff, with lots of pre-production footage of the cast, a look at each of the main characters, and some footage showing Boyle at work (including a montage of all the actors praising him to the high heavens). Despite the length of the material, its scattershot nature can’t compare to a true making-of documentary. Typical of shot-for-the-web footage, it's all presented in 480i/AVC MPEG-4video only.
- Short Films (SD, 12 minutes) - A bit of an oddity. Boyle admits in his intro to these short films have nothing to do with him or ‘Sunshine’ -- he's simply using the DVD (er, Blu-ray) format as a vehicle to showcase the work of filmmakers who wouldn't get the shot otherwise. Luckily, the two shorts themselves -- "Dad's Dead" and "Molehills" -- are quite good, and worth watching for fans of the form.
- Theatrical Trailer (HD) - Rounding out this package is the film's original, tantalizing trailer in full 1080, along with HD spots for 'Alien vs. Predator,' 'X-Men: The Last Stand,' '28 Days Later' and '28 Weeks Later.'
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
'Sunshine' hits Blu-ray as one of this winter’s most-anticipated releases. The first Fox title to be fully Profile 1.1 compliant, the disc features a true picture-in-picture commentary and other extras that promise to bring the best of next-gen interactivity to Blu-ray. I'm happy to report that I tried 'Sunshine' out on both my PlayStation 3 (with the latest firmware upgrade) and the Panasonic DMP-BD30, and all of the disc's bonus features played without a single hitch. Unfortunately, the exclusive material on 'Sunshine' is meager enough that it feels like a warm-up for the technology more than anything else. I certainly look forward to future Fox Profile 1.1-enabled titles, but the studio needs to put more meat on the bones or the gimmick will wear out real quick.
- Enhanced Viewing Mode: "A Brilliant Vision" - Fox's version of "In-Movie Experience," this one works exactly how you'd expect it to -- little picture-in-picture boxes pop up at pre-determined points throughout the film, containing behind-the-scenes footage, director chit-chat and cast & crew interviews. There are ten segments in all, each focusing on a specific scene or effect. Unfortunately, "A Brilliant Vision" is far from the best PIP track I've seen on a high-def release, if only because the flow of information gives "sporadic" new meaning -- the total run time of the material is a measly 18 minutes! That means that the vast majority of the film is devoid of PIP content. Certainly, in technical terms, this is a solid start for Fox, but it really feels like a teaser for a PIP track, instead of the real deal. Note that if your player is not Profile 1.1-compliant, you can still watch all ten of these PIP segments as a stand-alone supplement (in 4:3 full screen viewing mode only).
- Journey Into Sound: Surround Sound Enhancement (HD) Accessible only on Profile 1.1-compliant players (and those with a full 5-channel audio set-up), "Journey into Sound" allows you to be your own sound engineer. You can select four scenes, and "isolate" different dialogue streams and move them to different speakers. After you activate the feature, the scene plays, and an icon appears with five points -- each representing a different speaker of your home set-up (front left and right, center, and the two surrounds). You can highlight each at will, to move different dialogue tracks around the room. It's a rather neat way to see how placement of sound can affect the feel of a scene, and the potential for even more advanced applications is intriguing. Will I ever play with this feature again? Probably not. But as the first feature of its kind, it's certainly a fresh, innovative use of the Blu-ray format's "on the fly" audio mixing capabilities.
- Additional Deleted Scenes (SD, 6 minutes) - There are four bonus scenes, plus an alternate ending, exclusive to the Blu-ray. I won't spoil anything about the re-jiggered climax, other than to say that I didn’t find it any more or less satisfying than what's in the final version. Still, worth a watch, and truly great for Fox to include it as a bonus for Blu-ray fans.
- D-Box Motion Sensor Track - If earth-shaking surround sound isn't enough for your home theater, grab one of those D-Box custom motion-controlled couches, and enjoy some serious vibrations directed right to your behind.
'Sunshine' is an intriguing sci-fi thriller full of grand visuals and big ideas. Like many critics, I found the film’s climax a disappointment, but this one’s still a thought-provoking trip well worth taking. Fox has done a very fine job in bringing the film to Blu-ray. The transfer is quite good, and the extras -- including the studio's first-ever Profile 1.1-enabled picture-in-picture commentary -- are informative and entertaining. I could have used a better, bolder soundtrack, but all in all, 'Sunshine' is a winner on Blu-ray.
- BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc
- Profile 1.1-Enabled
- BD-Java Enhanced
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- 480p/i/AVC MPEG-4 (Supplements Only)
- English DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit)
- English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (448kbps)
- French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (448kbps)
- Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (448kbps)
- English SDH
- Cantonese Subtitles
- Spanish Subtitles
- Korean Subtitles
- Cantonese Subtitles
- French Subtitles
- Deleted Scenes
- Audio Commentary
- Short Films
- Production Diaries
- Theatrical Trailers
Exclusive HD Content
- Picture-in-Picture Commentary
- Surround Sound Mixing Suite
- Additional Deleted Scenes
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