I went to see the movie Sunshine today with my family. Definitely a mixed bag. Lots of boneheaded science mistakes, of course (more on those below). The first half of the movie is pretty interesting psychological drama, reminiscent of Solaris. Unfortunately, it turns into dumb horror in the second half. All in all, it has some good moments and great visuals, but it would also be a good candidate for Mystery Science Theater 3000, if they ever revived it.
An article in today’s Sunday Boston Globe is fairly laudatory about the movie. I really had better things to do, but I couldn’t help myself, so I wrote the following letter to the editor:
“About the movie Sunshine, Tom Russo writes (in the Sunday movie section) that “there’s nothing as inscrutably mind-bending as 2001 here, but nothing that’s Armageddon obtuse, either.” Actually, there’s plenty of Armageddon-level obtuseness in the film, including the premise that dropping a huge bomb onto the sun would somehow jumpstart the fire if it had gone out. (Bad science! Sit! Stay!) But if you buy that for the sake of enjoying the movie (and I was willing), then Sunshine has a pretty good psycho-drama going for the first half, reminiscent of Solaris. But the cracks start showing when you notice that the spaceship has the obligatory rotating elements, presumably for artificial gravity–but it does not seem to be the living quarters that are rotating, so what’s the point? Then when fire strike the greenhouse, source of their oxygen, what do they do? Vent the air to put the fire out? No! Feed it more oxygen to make it burn hotter! (Very bad science! Go lie down!) I probably shouldn’t even mention the huge derelict spaceship full of floating sloughed-off human skin–dandruff from a crew of, what, seven people?
Quite apart from the science, the story eventually devolves into silly horror, redeemed somewhat by a nice philosophic moment at the end. It’s not that the movie has no good points, because it does–but a film that aspires to have “a very rigorous realism attached to it,” as the director is quoted as saying, really could do much better.”
Probably won’t get printed, but at least I’m trying to give NASA its money’s worth back from the astronomy workshop!
On the plus side, there were some projection glitches, and the theater gave us return visit passes on our way out. Maybe we’ll go to The Simpsons next, and see how they score on the science. 🙂
Somewhat relevant to the efforts of the filmmakers:
“I use exotic settings, but the settings are like the function of a Chinese stage. They are intended to lay bare the human mind, to throw torches over the underground lakes of the human soul, to show the chambers wherein the ageless dramas of self-respect, God, courage, sex, love, hope, envy, decency and power go on forever.” —Cordwainer Smith