Thursday, January 17, 2008


The thoughtful science fiction film is all too rare. While science fiction books are evenly split between action-oriented books and more cerebral fare, the movies slant heavily to the flashy lights and explosives. If you look at the top 20 IMDB sci-fi films, only one or two isn't action-oriented. Even the Guardian's list is mostly action. It's understandable as even the slow paced science fiction films require special effects and are therefore expensive. The sci-fi equivalent of You Can Count on Me would probably lose a lot of money. This isn't to disparage space opera, but only to wish for more movies like the books of Hal Clement or the Speed of Dark.

So it is nice to see that a movie like Sunshine was made. The movie centers on Icarus II (Icarus I didn't make it), a ship carrying a bomb meant to re-start a dying sun. The first two thirds of the film focuses on the psychological, social and technical problems facing a eight person crew on a lengthy and possibly suicidal mission. The ship's psych officer is fascinated by the sun and goes right up to the edge of safe exposure to its light. The engineer is the hard nosed realist who would do well in the Cold Equations. The crew's captain reminded me of Dallas, which bodes poorly for him. The principal character is the physicist who designed the bomb. He is given to indecision and doubt.

As you can imagine thing begin to go wrong on the Icarus II, and as Apollo 13 showed us, errors in a environment like space lead to more errors, often worse than the initial ones. The film switches to danger/action mode at the end, but I think it does so without sacrificing the general tone of the film. I really liked this movie and hope it leads to more like it.

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