Sunday, August 5, 2007

Sunshine rocked! (or: why reviewers failed at logic)

Another week another post... eventually I'll get around to posting daily. At this point I'm sufficiently happy with posting weekly. This past week was busy busy busy! I had a book club meeting on Tuesday (A long way gone by Ishmael Beah) which was really good and I was glad that there were other people who had doubts about the narrative as I did (I'll reserve that review for another post). Wednesday I had karaoke, Thursday was Alive at Five in Stamford, and Friday I went to an incredible house party in Fairfield with some friends I met in a trivia team (that incidentally I skipped on that Tuesday to go to the book club :D ). On Saturday I rested.

Today, I cleaned, mentally and physically. This past week had so much stress it was incredible, and my events in the evenings brought me through it but only to sustain not to refresh. So today I scrubbed laundry, sporadically picked up, sparkled dishes, swept floors. I slowly meditated. I swam for sixty minutes solid. Then I went to some movies: The Simpsons and Sunshine. It turned out to be an S themed Sunday after all.

I went to The Simpsons first, because according to the reviewers was a good movie (I was highly entertained; the Simpsons writing staff has not lost any of their wit). However, I only went because I was preparing myself.

You must understand that I really love sci-fi (I had gone through a phase of being bored with it, and am glad to be back into it again (thanks Stephen Eley), and wanted this movie to be epic, but I had read that Sunshine was only good for the first two thirds, and that the ending ruined the movie. Surprisingly enough this was repeated en masse by Wired (sorry: could only find a small snippet of a snub right now), New Scientist, SmartCine, and even Slate jumped in with two stories, one intelligent inquiry and one panned review. Almost everyone commented that the "Freddy Kreuger" ending was enough to kill the film. Even so, I undauntedly saw the film, thinking that being double featured with something funny would at least balance things out.

I was therefore shocked to see such an incredible film, and equally as shocked to see all these reviewers not get it at all! I was as mad for believing them as I was for them trying to ruin this film.

At this point I will spoil part of the movie. If you want to be surprised, then stop reading now and take my word for it. If you don't understand the ending, come back here. For those who need reassurance, read on:

The story is about a second attempt to save the sun by flying up to it and dropping a calculated nuclear explosion at the core to restart a chain reaction. I say second attempt because the first attempt never made it to its destination. They pick up the reading from the first ship and decide to board (because if they can grab the payload then they'd have two chances to succeed instead of one). Now at this point you must be thinking what happened to the first ship. It turns out that the first ship's captain was a Fundamentalist who believed that the sun was dying because of God and sabotaged the first mission. Then being smart, he waited for seven years with the replenishing oxygen garden. Why? Because he knew that mankind would make a second attempt and that if he put out a distress beacon with the ship mostly intact, he could lure them in and sabotage the second attempt as well and bring mankind down "as God intended". So he goes a little crazy near the end while waiting and overexposes his skin to the sun in the Observation Deck (where he murdered three other of the crew), and this makes him look like "Freddy Kreuger". Even though this was foreshadowed in the movie (the psychologist in the second mission has a sun-fetish spending lots of time in the observation deck which they did a great job portraying in his pocked makeup), overusing this effect led to the misunderstanding. I would have understand if none of this was spelled out.

But, here's the thing that really angers me. They DO spell all this out: the physicist and the second lieutenant figure out at the same time that it's the captain from the first mission and say this out loud. This "monster" is no ghost, is no "Freddy Kreuger", he's just a religious zealot thinking he's doing God's will to undermine both missions. I repeat, they SPELL this out in the film, and the reviewers still say it's an unexplained monster. This is almost egregious in its misrepresentation.

Besides, there are other unexplained things in the film that are more misunderstood than this monster thing should have been, such as:
  • the event horizon [the physics not the movie!] general relativity effects that wouldn't happen unless the sun were three times as massive
  • disregarding the "monster", the last three minutes of the film (you'll know when you see it)
  • why a sun would be dying in the first place without going through red giant stage [dying by fire first then by ice]
  • why they couldn't automate many of the mission tasks, such as the calculations to recalibrate the shield, repair the panels, calculate the new trajectory, and command the final shot of fissive material into the sun
  • why airtight isolation of oxygen from the damaged oxygen garden didn't automatically kill the fire, but rather that it would burn for 6 hours (how they solved it was a bit too convenient for too many plot points)
Personally I thought the religious sabotage was extremely clever in comparison to all of that (even though it's been done before too, like Contact). It just goes to show that even a thought provoking movie can be attacked by people who just didn't get it. It just goes to show that you can't trust reviewers all the time, and that your personal experience of a movie could be loads different than the well paid reviewers who may not watch the movie as faithfully. With all that said, I don't think that the ending was well executed, but it wasn't ruined or horrible. It's not a perfect movie, but it's damn near close. Please go see this movie before it leaves the big screen.

PS -- the next reviewer who compares a sci-fi movie to 2001 I will never read again. 2001 wasn't even that good compared to the book.

There, I'm done ranting now. :D

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