The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Saturday, August 21, 2010


A bit in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" has a character exposed to the immensity of outer space, our galaxy and much further on.  The kicker is that everyone who sees how big the universe is thus feels as small as an ant and kills themselves.  It's funnier than it sounds, trust me.  But the size of space is hard to comprehend, one of many things that flashed through my head while watching 2007's Sunshine.  A sci-fi story that is a lot more at times -- and a lot less at others -- asks a lot of questions, some harder to answer than others.

The science portion of the science fiction angle has this ability to drive a lot of viewers off as they claim "Oh, that's ridiculous.  That could never happen."  Well thankfully, I've never been a science whiz and when I see something that doesn't quite make sense, it usually drifts over me and is gone as quick as it appeared.  Sunshine has its fair share of those moments, but the build-up and the tension and the character dynamics are so interesting to watch, the science of it all can be superfluous at times.  I was loving this movie, absolutely loving it, for about an hour, and then director Danny Boyle adds a twist so unnecessary and out of place that it almost ruins the whole movie.  Stew on that for a little while.

Some 50 years into the future, the sun is dying much faster than ever predicted, leaving the Earth in a state of winter at all times, the planet basically freezing to death.  Aboard an immense space ship, the Icarus II, eight astronauts navigate from Earth to the Sun carrying a bomb, a massive payload the size of Manhattan Island, that it is believed will create a star within a star by exploding the bomb within the sun.  The voyage is millions of miles away, and the Icarus II has been moving toward its goal for some 16 months.  But as the ship passes Mercury, an odd distress signal is heard, that of Icarus I, the first ship sent to accomplish the mission before mysteriously disappearing.  What happened to the first ship, and could it happen to the second before the mission  is accomplished, dooming Earth to its fate?

A great ensemble fills out Icarus II's crew, starting with Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada), the ship's captain, Harvey (Troy Garity), 2nd in command and communications officer, Searle (Cliff Curtis), ship's doctor and psych officer, Capa (Cillian Murphy), the physicist in charge of the bomb, Corazon (Michelle Yeoh), the biologist, Cassie (Rose Byrne), the pilot, Trey (Benedict Wong), the navigator, and Mace (Chris Evans), the no-nonsense engineer. On a journey with no outside world to escape to that will take years, the crew develops tendencies and routines, fighting amongst themselves while balancing out the scale of their mission. The first hour of the movie as we see these characters and get to know them is by far the best part, seeing this dynamic among eight people as they risk their lives to save millions.

Deep space provides all sorts of open doors for a movie to walk into.  It's unexplored, and anything could exist out there.  It takes years to travel the millions of miles between Earth and the Sun so rescue isn't just around the corner.  These astronauts are on their own.  That premise is what drives the story.  The future of the Earth depends on this crew and their ability.  Add in an absolutely beautiful visual movie, a very moving if underused score by John Murphy (listen HERE) and you've got all these great elements to work with. About halfway through, I thought I was watching one of the best sci-fi movies ever, only to have a curveball thrown my way.  It helped following the movie reading scathing posts on the message boards that I wasn't the only one who hated an unnecessary late twist.

SPOILERS for this paragraph SPOILERS  The disappearance and then reappearance of Icarus I is a perfect addition to the story, in theory.  It's like Christmas Eve, you're curious what those presents are, but it's almost more fun not knowing what's inside.  How did the Icarus disappear? Did they kill each other? Did the Sun destroy them? Was it an alien? It's better not knowing here.  It is that sense of mystery of what space could contain.  ANYTHING.  Then in need of repairs, the Icarus II docks with I, and over the last 30-45 minutes we see that it was the deranged captain (Mark Strong) who took out his crew and now plans to take out II, hoping to be the man who last talks to "God," or in reality the sun and all its power. What was one of the best science-fiction movies ever now devolves into a teen slasher film.  Really? That's where you wanted to go with this?  The ending still remains incredibly moving in its execution, but it's almost an afterthought. END OF SPOILERS

There are good twist, great twist, stupid twists and unnecessary ones.  This one was stupid and unnecessary in so many ways. It almost completely ruins what otherwise could have been a classic movie about space, space travel, and all the emotions and feelings that race through the human mind when faced with an impossible, nearly suicidal task.  Almost completely ruins. The first hour and the last five minutes are so good I'm still recommending this one.

Sunshine <----trailer (2007): ***/****

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