by Steele Hill
(Discounted Hardcover from Amazon)
Adding new meaning to the terms "umbrella" and "sunscreen," director Danny Boyle thrusts us on a mission to save planet earth from the effects of a dying sun. With a script laboring for a feeling of verisimilitude, the best part of the journey may be in the gravity-defying sci-fi visual components which, to this viewer, offers a degree or two of plausibility. It's the remainder of all them degrees that is at issue.
One thought that Boyle and scriptwriter Alex Garland ("28 Days Later") immediately makes clear as spacecraft Icarus II journeys toward the sun with a payload intended to rejuvenate it is the interesting time frame of space travel. In a video letter home, mission physicist Capa (Cillian Murphy) signs off his positive vision of the tasks ahead with, "see you in two years."
At this point, he and his fellow crewmembers are 16 months from liftoff with a mere 36 million miles to go, where they'll deliver the mother of all nuclear bombs into a growing dark spot on our star and a booster shot for the temperature range on earth in which humans survive. If all goes according to plan, including the return after the package is delivered, two years should be enough.
Obviously, it's not going to work out so well, providing a playbook of problem solving that elicits memories of "Alien," "Solaris," with a touch of "2001" (Icarus' computer voice is more scientifically responsive than self-taught Hal). The crew is up to the task of conveying all the terrors and misjudgement that an imperfect space mission destines them for, including suicide, selfishness and despair.
While the scope is inter-planetary, it always gets down to the relationships and behavioral clashes among human (and/or non-human) species trapped in a confined space. A spaceship is that cramped vessel in which to implant explosive imbalances for dramatic paydirt. With subtle advance thinking into what the power balance might be in a fifty year future, as well (perhaps) as to avoid stereotypes, Boyle's cast is as much Asian as otherwise.
The sexy side is covered with Australian Rose Byrne ("Marie Antoinette") as the ship's pilot; Chris Evans ("The Fantastic Four") is engineer (and most dynamic character); Michelle Yeoh ("Memoirs of a Geisha") as biologist Corazon who covers the Asian ancestral virtues of sensitivity and caretaker of our resources. Others include Hiroyuki Sanada ("The Last Samurai"), captain; Benedict Wong, navigator; Cliff Curtis, medical officer; and Troy Garity, engineer. A nice PC package in which Murphy demonstrates his charismatic composure and in which Byrne treats us to a few very impressive moments.
A major plot complication is the spotting of the ship's predecessor, Icarus I, which disappeared under mysterious circumstances seven years ago. A question of major consequence revolves around visiting it or continuing on with raipidly diminishing resources that could mean all the difference in mission success.
But, as the target grows near and the plot tends to feel the effects of too much gravity, the glue of the enterprise is the overwash of the CGI team's expertise and the dynamic beats of John Murphy's techno-rock futurism in film scoring. It reminds you of gravity and power at all the moments calling for the emphasis, including the application of well-timed bone-rattle deep in the chest cavity.
~~ Jules Brenner