August 13, 2007

"Sunshine:"

From my review in the August 28th issue of The American Conservative:

"Sunshine" is a medium budget ($40 million) science fiction thriller with art house pretensions about eight astronauts on a last-chance-for-mankind mission to reignite the dying Sun with a "stellar bomb" the size of Manhattan. The movie falls uncomfortably between the grand heroism of the old sci-fi and the petty self-absorption of our reality television shows.

Granted, the physics of the premise are unworkable -- for one thing, it takes a half million years for light to jostle its way out from the dense solar core to the surface, so by the time we noticed anything was wrong with the Sun, it would be too late -- but, some of the film's conceptions of how much the freezing folks back on Earth could do if they had to are thrillingly old-fashioned. For instance, this bomb is humanity's final hope because "all the fissile material on Earth has been mined" to make it.

On the other hand, by 2057 NASA appears to have delegated personnel selection to a TV network. The crewmembers of Icarus II look great but display all the competence, cohesiveness, and cool-headedness of a losing tribe on Survivor. With the oxygen running out, they sit and debate whether it's morally justified to kill one person to save the entire species (uh, yup). "Sunshine" isn't quite as inane as last year's apocalyptic "Children of Men," which kept getting distracted from its plot about saving humanity from extinction to protest the plight of illegal immigrants, but it's close.


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

11 comments:

turkey said...

"The Protocols of the Elders of Albion" line from Sullivan's article is hilarious. I imagine them meeting on the deck of a ship of the line. Derbyshire has an upturned bowler hat full of roast beef.

dougjnn said...

With the oxygen running out, they sit and debate whether it's morally justified to kill one person to save the entire species (uh, yup).

Only Hollywood can ask such questions with a straight face.

The thing is, it does so ENDLESSLY. In fact it virtually never doesn't pose such a choice (or one involving "mere" millions, etc.) of one's countrymen, as an excruciating moral dilemma.

Yet I don't believe I can recall ever seeing any French, German, British or for that matter any other countries do so, ever. Curious Steve, as a reviewer, can you? (I can imagine an Australian movie might, though I can's recall seeing such.)

It seems to me a uniquely American absurdist trope, or posture.



I sometimes wonder what people in other countries must think when they see this sort of moral idiocy with great regularity when watching American movies.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen "Sunshine" but having just watched a satire of sci-fi/adventure movies (Aronofsky's The Fountain which only makes sense if it's satire) I wonder if maybe the movie you reviewed was intended to be satire as well.

So far most movies that are satirical have been overt about it, i.e. The History of the World, Airplane, with lots of slapstick humor. A more subtle approach might make it hard to grasp without some knowledge of the director's body of work. Then again it could've just been a bad movie.

Anonymous said...

"I sometimes wonder what people in other countries must think when they see this sort of moral idiocy with great regularity when watching American movies."

I live in Germany. I hardly ever watch anything from the US. When I do, its just an excuse to switch off and eat popcorn. I don't expect anything sensible from hollywierd anyway. Nowadays I weigh up the cost of eating popcorn and reckon its cheaper to have some decent German beer in a pub instead.

Decent old Cowboy movies, that's another issue altogether...

Anonymous said...

Steve --

There is a reason these sci-fi movies are so bad. It's because sci-fi is at it's heart pulp not aristo-narcissistic navel gazing.

Star Wars, some of the Star Trek movies, even the TV Farscape and Babylon 5 worked because they were populist pulp aimed squarely at middle-working class guys.

Sunshine and Children of Men failed because they were aimed at arty, metrosexual, upper-class men and women. Which is a recipe for failure. Like a romance movie with the male lead as a plumber or carpenter instead of some rich guy. Women don't want Carrie Bradshaw with a carpenter or accountant no matter how well the characters might be constructed. They want Mr. Big dammbit!

Just like men want manly-men action in Sci-Fi movies, destroy the villain and save the day and get the girl. It can be weird (Farscape's 90's commentary on the the post-Cold War world), sort of weird (Babylon 5's re-imagining of the Cold War in outer space), or somewhat mundane (Star Trek). But it must have those elements that appeal to guys.

The reason this movie blew IMHO was it's arty upper-class construction. Imagine a football movie written and directed by John Updike.

Anonymous said...

"With the oxygen running out, they sit and debate whether it's morally justified to kill one person to save the entire species (uh, yup)."

I kinda like this scene, b/c when the guy in charge didn't get the required consensus from his colleagues, he said, "well, guess, what? I'm in charge and I'm gonna go kill the s.o.b"

But, I was really trying to like the movie to begin w/ after reading the trashing given by some leftist SFChronicle reviewer.

Fred said...

"Aronofsky's The Fountain which only makes sense if it's satire"

How you could have confused the elegiac tone of "The Fountain" for satire, I have no idea. Maybe reading the Premiere review will help.

"Women don't want Carrie Bradshaw with a carpenter or accountant no matter how well the characters might be constructed."

I doubt my girlfriend at the time was alone among women in being happy to see Carrie date Aidan, the furniture designer/carpenter.

Earthbound said...

How you could have confused the elegiac tone of "The Fountain" for satire, I have no idea. Maybe reading the Premiere review will help.

Did you even see "The Fountain", Fred? The cheesy Fx of the astronaut version of Hugh Jackman's character bald & in the lotus position being flashed along the tree which had become some sort of tube was anything but elegiac. Aronofsky is a gritty, down to earth kind of guy. The spiky sweetgum ball he plants on top of Izzi's grave is much more a hint to the significance of the movie than any of the grandious scenes with the astronaut or the conquistador.

If you had any literary background, Fred, you wouldn't be looking for a single correct interpretation from a source you consider authoritative. Have you seen Pi or Requiem for a Dream?

Elegiac LOL

I don't doubt Aronofsky is a deeply spiritual person but the protagonist is in denial about death - the book his wife leaves for him to finish is mocking him in a gentle way. He can't cope with her death, didn't stay with her in the hospital, ignored her request for the walk in the first snow.
Aronofksy would not co-opt the overt religious symbols of buddhism, reincarnation or even the tree of life. It's not his way. Even the title The Fountain is a clue. The unstated rest of the title is "of youth". Yet the quest is for the tree of life not the fountain of youth - stupid title, probably not.

God, look at the ridiculous image of Izzi the tree being dragged along in a spaceship to be saved from death, alas moments too late again. It's Tommy's flight of fancy - wish fulfillment. He's trying to deny death which Izzi sees as inseparable from life.

I also saw hints of Solaris in the movie and possibly of Apocalypto which unfortunately I haven't seen. I got the feeling Aronofsky was getting something off his chest with this movie - perhaps he found the concept of Apocalypto deeply offensive and did this in response. So unlike you, Fred, I'll be renting the movies that were alluded to in The Fountain and getting at Aronofsky's core beliefs which I have found to be wise as well as intriguing.

But by all means, Fred, think that some critic has the capacity to tell you how to interpret any art, literature or film you find difficult to comprehend. You no doubt have found the definitive answer while unpedigreed as I am, I'm just fumbling around in the dark.

Sometimes a tree is just a tree...

Fred said...

Earthbound,

Do you always spout off with assumptions about strangers? Everything you assumed about me is wrong. I saw The Fountain. I also saw Pi and Requiem For A Dream. I liked all three, but liked The Fountain the best. I never said I had difficulty understanding it.

I didn't post the link to the Premier review because I thought that review is the final word on the movie; I posted it as a starting point to the original poster who was under the delusion that the film was satire.

As for your comment,

"Elegiac, LOL!"

Rather than giving away any more gratuitous details about the film than you already have (as a courtesy to those who haven't seen it yet but might like to), I'll leave it to others who watch the film to decide for themselves whether it's laugh-out-loud funny to characterize the film's tone as elegiac.

By the way, I saw Solaris* (the version with Clooney). Read Stanislaw Lem's book first; the new film version doesn't do it justice. Even if you are as "unpedigreed" as you claim to be, you shouldn't have too much trouble with the book. I read it when I was 13 -- it's not difficult.

*There is also a Russian version of Solaris, shot in the 70's, I think. I saw a little of it on IFC, but didn't stick with it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Fred, I don't respond well to bald statements that seemingly can't be challenged. Elegiac vs Satire with nothing in between? Elegiac doesn't quite fit what I see going on in The Fountain. Huge pieces of the movie don't fit that description. I used the word satire because the movie didn't seem complete to me without what I take to be a negative reference to other films. Because of this, I didn't like The Fountain as well as Pi or Requiem.

Also, I read Solaris about 5 years ago and saw the Russian movie. My memory of that version is sketchy now but I believe it was much truer to Lem's book. The George Clooney version was just loosely based on the novel. I think I would've liked it better if I hadn't already read Lem.

David said...

Dougjnn wrote:

Only Hollywood can ask such questions with a straight face [is it okay to kill one person to save humanity?].

The thing is, it does so ENDLESSLY. In fact it virtually never doesn't pose such a choice[...]of one's countrymen, as an excruciating moral dilemma.

Yet I don't believe I can recall ever seeing any French, German, British or for that matter any other countries do so, ever.[...] It seems to me a uniquely American absurdist trope, or posture.


I think it's a relatively recent meme. Look at the TV series "24." There, the meme is: "It may be troubling, but it's okay to torture people to save the world." In the movie(s) you're discussing, the meme is: "It may be troubling, but it's okay to kill innocent people to save the world."

It's okay to torture people...it's okay to kill innocent people.

These conclusions are always quietly pushed in present-day American fiction in the context of a story of war or dire conflict.

Hm...might this have something to do with America's and Israel's military stances?

The Soviets called this "conditioning"; it's intended to harden people to the required task.

The Nazis had "The Eternal Jew" in 1940. We have Jack Bauer.

Note that in Hollyweird (not old Hollywood) movies, the villains are always of two broad types: if the villainy consists in brute bombings and random thuggery, then they're Arabs, Muslim types, aka "wogs." If, however, the villainy is broader and intellectual (ruling the world, etc.), then the meanies are blond, pale-eyed ice men, e.g. Neo-Nazis from outside of America (from Europe or South Africa, etc.). The first category has a subcategory: if the movie is "high market" Academy-award material, then the brute bombers will not be wogs but will instead be Neo-Nazis from inside America.

The hero of course being a dark kinky-haired short wisecracking guy, or (when patriotism is a crucial consideration) a (dyed) blond ersatz Aryan like Sutherland.