21 August 2007


A somewhat chilly and rainy autumn-like night seemed like a good time to see a movie about flying a rocket ship to the sun.

Sunshine is based on some dubious - or at least highly speculative - science: the notion that when our sun begins to die, plunging earth into an eternal ice age, it can be kick-started back to life by dropping something called a "stellar bomb" the size of Manhattan into its core.

Never mind that I'd always been under the impression that a) when the sun actually dies, it will erupt into a supernova that will incinerate the planets as far out as Mars or Jupiter; b) that the biggest nuclear explosion human beings can generate would have about as much impact on the sun as dropping a lit match into a forest fire the size of Texas, this tale of eight astronauts attempting to pilot a bomb-bearing spaceship straight into the sun is a riveting tale indeed.

Of course there's also the fact that if you really want to deliver something to the sun, it's pretty simple: just blast a rocket in its general direction and by the time your rocket is inside the orbit of Venus, the sun's gravity should take care of the rest (any astrophysicists reading this, fell free to correct me). Okay, so the whole premise of the film is utter nonsense; it's still great entertainment, and as one review said, "You'll never look at the sun in the same way again."

For instance, I've always had a pretty good opinion of our nearest star. Apart from the occasional sunburn and the paint peeling off my old car from from overexposure (but that's more the stupid Toyota Motor Company's fault than Old Sol's), the sun has been nothing but good to me. I mean, think about it: it sits there for billions of years dishing out warmth and light and making all life possible without asking a thing in return. I mean, you don't get much more benign than that. No wonder the ancients worshiped it as a god.

But in this film - and here I have no reason to doubt the science - as soon as you get in closer proximity, the sun becomes the ultimate killing machine, capable of incinerating anyone or anything in the blink of an eye (and, speaking of eyes, capable of instantly and permanently blinding anyone who looks at an almost totally filtered version of it).

Of course it doesn't help that people seem to get a little loopy - make that a lot loopy - as they enter into the sun's gravitational field, but I'll say no more about that for fear of spoiling the plot for those of you who might wish to see it. Because this isn't exactly a high-budget film, the sets and the effects are somewhat limited, but are effective nonetheless, even though they often consist of little more than flashing lights and some great crashes and bangs that sound not unlike what you'll hear in a multi-level subway station.

Which was why, waiting for the L train at 6th Avenue while the F and V rumbled overhead, and seeing the lights of the train as it came barreling down the tunnel toward me, I pretty much relived the terror of the film while at the same time marveling at the way many things we think of as completely mundane and normal are very nearly as amazing as rocket ships that go to the sun.

When I got out at my stop just as a rocket ship-sized semi roared past on Metropolitan Avenue and then left me standing there in sudden silence as the rain started to fall in earnest, it felt more autumn-like than ever, and for once I didn't feel at all melancholy about the prospect. In fact, after what I'd just seen, taking a bit of a break from the sun seemed downright inviting.

No comments: