Tuesday, February 5, 2008

From the Archive: "Sunshine" DVD Review

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

Continue reading after the jump to access my original DVD Review of “Sunshine”

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
DVD Review originally published February 5th, 2008


Sunshine is an end-of-the-world sci-fi story about a crew of eight astronauts who must go and re-ignite the earth’s dying sun.  At face value, this doesn’t seem like a very original concept, but the movie executes this premise so originally that you quickly forget this.  Sunshine dispenses with what other films in the genre have done, and starts in space.  There’s no hour-long opening on earth where they get ready to launch.  The movie just starts near the end of the voyage, and traces the crew’s journey to the epic finale.  It never cuts back to show what its like on Earth, and it gives the movie a creepy, claustrophobic feel.  You won’t realize it at first, but about halfway through, you’ll find that you’ve been scared out of you’re wits. 

The acting is brilliant.  Every actor really does a great job, and seeing that there’s only 8 or so performers on screen for the entire film, you have to admire the casting.  This ensemble has great chemistry that makes the film come alive.  Add to that some awe-inspiring effects, as well as an unforgettable musical score that was one of the best of 2007 (and not nominated for an Oscar...grr...), and you’ve got a great film.

But the thing that REALLY sets Sunshine apart from other movie in the end-of-the-world genre is the science of the space vehicle.  It feels so real.  Every doubt you’d have about astronauts being able to get to the sun is addressed, but the movie doesn’t have long exposition scenes.  Instead, it lets you figure out what’s going on.  The movie absolutely nails the believability factory, and all the other cubes fall into place to make a movie that is lightyears ahead of the competition. 

Let’s put it this way: since seeing the movie, I haven’t been able to go outside and look at the sunlight without being reminded of this film.

Film Rating: A
TOP TEN 07: #9


This is one of the most visually provocative films of 2007; light textures are used heavily in very artistic ways that often serve the plot, as well as enhance the mood of the film.  Sadly, the video on this disc doesn’t come close to serving the imagery of this film justice.  Now, keep in mind that I am watching this film on an anamorphic 16:9 display, and the flaws in the image probably won’t be apparent to viewers watching on a standard 4x3 screen.  Considering how America is making such a large shift towards 16:9 displays, however, DVD video should look better than this on them.

The first and biggest problem in the image, apparent right from the start in the Fox Searchlight logo, is really bad digital blocki-ness.  That is to say, there is what looks like a thin, murky layer of digital artifacting sitting on the image.  If you look at the light in the city in the Fox logo, it almost looks like the lights of the city are flipping on and off.  They aren’t; this is the digital artifacting jumping around the image, and it continues for much of the film.  This is hard to explain until you’ve seen it first hand; those who have trained their eyes to notice these sorts of things will see it right away.  The problem appears like little blocks of digital noise that sits on top of the image, and is very distracting.  Any time there are colors darker than flesh tones, this stuff appears, and it’s very, very distracting.

Because of the mass amounts of artifacting, contrast is simply terrible for much of the film.  In dark to mildly-lit scenes, the fading of colors and tones into other colors and tones doesn’t look natural, but blocky, somehow unnatural.  Anyone who has watched a YouTube video has seen what I’m talking about.  The digital artifacting, combined with the contrast, makes some of the dark space scenes really hard to see, covering up the fine detail on the ship.  Considering most of this movie is dark, or out in Space, you can see why this is a disappointment.   

Still, the image isn’t all bad.  It’s definitely watchable, and you get used to it about 45 minutes in.  Colors themselves are rendered correctly, and fine detail is good when not being botched up by the artifacting.  The shots of Icarus 2 are still phenomenal to look at, and the final, beautiful shot is very well rendered.  But some of the power of some shots really is dwindled by problems with the image, and I can’t help wishing it was better rendered.  Part of the problem is probably compression; I notice the layer switch 87 minutes in, which is cause for plenty of compression problems.

Thankfully, the disc sports an excellent audio track.  The best way to describe the track is by calling it crisp and descriptive; you can always hear what’s going on, even if it may be hard to see it.  The beautiful music score is represented extremely well here, and the sound effects, mostly presented in low bass that rumbled my couch, is excellent.  Dialogue, when present, is always clear, crisp, and easy to hear, like you’re sitting in with the crew.  Overall, when you combine the video with the audio, you’ve got a perfectly passable viewing experience; despite flaws in the image, the film is still very powerful, and when the credits rolled I was glued to my seat for the second time.   

Video Rating: 5.5/10
Audio Rating: 9.5/10


The disc also sports a respectable batch of extras.  First off, we have two commentaries.  The first is with director Danny Boyle.  He’s a surprisingly cheery guy, despite how gloomy his films are.  He’s got some good stuff to say about the production, and is worth a listen.  But for my buck, the other commentary featuring physicist Brian Cox (who was the science consultant on the film) is the best thing on the disc.  If you didn’t totally understand the science watching this film the first time, Cox really makes it clear.  He’s got a lot of good technical tidbits to say, and there’s not as much “quiet time” on this track as on the Boyle track.  I can’t help but feel like if these two tracks had been done as one commentary it would have been even better; I always like commentaries more when you have multiple people conversing. 

Next there’s a batch of deleted scenes, with commentary by Boyle.  This is your standard deleted scene stuff; extended and/or unnecessary.  Nothing particularly interesting, but still fun to see.  There’s also an “alternate ending,” but don’t get excited.  There’s nothing alternate about it.  This was simply a test version done to show the studio what they were going for.  Once you get through the Deleted Scenes, there’s a very long series of Web Production Diaries released when the film hit theaters.  These are fun to watch, and together they make a good little documentary on the making of the film.  Still, I would have liked to see a more formal documentary made for this disc.  But despite the limitations, the Production Diaries are still worth a watch.  The theatrical trailer is also included.

Rounding out the disc is a pair of short films...that made no sense to me.  Why are they on the disc?  I don’t know.  They seem useless, seeing as they have no relation to the film.  Perhaps others will enjoy them, but I personally think they’re just wasting space and compressing the video on the disc even further. 

Extras and Presentation Rating: 6.5/10


Overall, the disc sports a good little batch of extras.  Most of them are worth a look, but I’m still a bit disappointed.  There’s nothing to go ga-ga for here.  When you combine that with the disappointing visual presentation, you get a disc that’s hard to put a full recommendation into.  But this is one of the best films of the year (number 9 on my top ten), and one of the best sci-fi films of the decade.  So even if this disc is disappointing, it gets my high recommendation because of how great the movie is. 

Overall Grade: 8/10

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