Sunshine: Danny Boyle's Hot Sci-Fi

In the year 2057, the Sun is dying and mankind faces extinction. Earth's last hope lies with the Icarus II, a spacecraft with a crew of 8 men and women, led by Captain Kaneda. The mission is to deliver a nuclear device designed to reignite our fading sun.

Deep into their voyage, out of radio contact with Earth, the crew hears a distress beacon from the Icarus I, which disappeared on the same mission 7 years earlier. A terrible accident throws their mission into jeopardy and soon the crew find themselves fighting not only for their lives and their sanity, but for the future of all mankind.

Appeal of Alex Garland's Script

Danny Boyle: I'm a great believer in continuity and I felt that we should follow up 28 Days Later by working together again, and the premise of the script was so intoxicating.

Nobody's made a movie about the Sun, and the Sun is the single thing more important than any other thing. If it blinks out, we're all dead in 8 minutes, and yet nobody's made a film about it. I thought, 'that's fantastic.

Obviously there's also the idea of the psychological effects of that on these people, and what they see as they draw close to the source of all life in the universe. That always got me.

On Space Films

I love space films. I'm not a “Star Trek” kind of movie person, but I am what I would call “more elegant space films.” I found myself at6 “Contact” (with Jodie Foster), and I found myself at “Alien 4” (David Fincher's first feature) when it opened.

Personal Spin on Genre Film

I don't think about genre that much when I'm making my film, even though we're looking at them and we screened them. We screened “Alien,” and all sorts of sci-fi films.

You try and set off as innocently as possible, and occasionally you collide with films and you think, “Better not do that,” or “Oh yeah, that would be good to actually gesture towards it.” So you suffuse yourself in them and then you try and leave them behind a bit.

The stricter premise, the reference premise is more what our production designer Mark Tildesley says, “It's that 50 years thin.” Fifty years ago in London, there were red buses, and you still see red buses today, and yet the place is completely different.

And so there's enough in the film that you feel familiar with. It's not “tar Trek,” and so we based our research on NASA's kind of outreach program, and so the Icarus II has plants to give oxygen to sustain life in space or on other planets, and that's plants.

NASA Approach to Film

We did everything from meeting specialists, like our scientific consultant Brian Cox, to Richard Seymour who is a futurist designer. He's a blue skies thinker for people like Ford and Phillips, and he invented the cordless kettle 20 years ago, and he's invented stuff that he thinks in 20 years time will be as familiar to us as the cordless kettle has become.

Seymour gave us an image of the future, a kind of 50 years image of the future. Andrew (the producer), Alex (the writer), and I went to meet him, and we talked to him and he showed us stuff, and then he talked to the actors about it. Mark designs it, but you steep yourself in lots of stuff from everybody and gradually things begin to emerge.

This idea of the shield came out of very basic thinking about production, and then NASA research about materials and how you'd protect yourself from hear, from radiation, and that was gold leaf. It's no good protecting yourself with solid lead, it would just melt straightaway, whereas gold leaf dissipates the heat away from the ship behind it. I remember that being a big discovery that seems terribly obvious, and then that lead to the space suit, you think that's got to be gold, it wouldn't be white like the NASA suit and then you develop, then you get courage from that and you think, “Let's change the helmet.”

Nuclear Submarine

Obviously the German movie “Das Boot” (“The Boat”) was a big influence. Initially we thought we'd make the Icarus II quite claustrophobic. But we didn't make it claustrophobic in the end in the way “Das Boot” is, because your instinct tells you, “No, these guys are going to be out there for three years, they wouldn't let them live in the conditions of “Das Boot,” where in order to get past anybody, you have to stand up, they wouldn't quite do that, but you wanted a feeling of that anyway.

When we went to look at the nuclear sub, it wasn't as bad as “Das Boot,” because that's 50, 60 years ago, so we kind of let it breathe a little bit, but you try to give it a sense of confinement as well within it, and to make them pasty faced and all kind of stuff.

Conveying Bad News

The biggest thing I found out on the nuclear submarine, which was absolutely extraordinary, and there's no direct way of getting this into the film, but you tell the actors and hope it affects them mentally: When a crew goes on a nuclear submarine they have to make a choice before they leave: Do they want to be told bad news or not

I just thought, psychologically, what an amazing thing. Because communication is basically one way, you can't communicate back, nothing changes the mission, no individual–someone going mad is just locked up, somebody dies, the body's put in storagenothing changes the mission. They go out, they don't know where they are, only three people on board know where they are, so they have to make this decision that, if their wife or child dies or is really ill, do they want to know or not They have to make that decision. I thought that was just incredibly powerful.