The New Year is young, but already buzz — or at least a sort of preliminary giddiness — is building about a movie that practically nobody has seen. It's "Sunshine," the forthcoming film by English director Danny Boyle, and speculation in fantasy precincts is that this picture could be the next step in the century-long visual evolution of big-screen sci-fi — an artistic breakthrough possibly on the order of "Alien," which brought post-industrial grubbiness to the previously pristine reaches of outer space 28 years ago.
Well, maybe, who knows? The movie's just-released trailer indicates that its most novel element is a really big role for the sun. No longer is deep space just a vast black vacuum sprinkled with stars and hung with huge orbs floating about in poetic slow motion. The sun, that incomprehensibly enormous ball of fiery plasma, heats things up visually, and provides a rich new source of deadly problems for the film's interstellar explorers.
The story is solidly anchored in the sci-fi tradition. It's set at a point in the future when the sun is dying, and along with it, life on Earth. Scientists have developed a sort of bomb that could jolt the sun back to life (or something). One of these devices was dispatched on a spaceship called Icarus seven years earlier. That ship disappeared before completing its mission. Now another ship, Icarus II, is on its way to the sun, bearing another bomb. Onboard is a crew of eight — six men, two women. Each, of course, has a vital scientific specialty. Naturally, not all of them get along. Soon they learn that ... they're not alone.
"Sunshine" looks like an exceptional stylistic advance in the career of Danny Boyle, previously best known for such gritty films as "Trainspotting" and "28 Days Later." The cast is a fresh mix, too, an assemblage of distinctive actors that includes Cillian Murphy ("Batman Begins"), Rose Byrne ("Wicker Park"), Michelle Yeoh ("Memoirs of a Geisha"), Hiroyuki Sanada ("The Last Samurai") and Chris Evans (Johnny Storm in "Fantastic Four").
The movie has been an unusually hush-hush project from the outset (filming and post-production reportedly took well over a year), and even though it's now 95 percent finished, Boyle is still keeping it under tight wraps — the cast and Fox Searchlight execs are among the few people who've seen the whole picture. When will the rest of us get a look? That's hard to say — there's no release date yet (possibly because there's no MPAA rating yet, either). However, March, April, somewhere in there seems likely. Let the looking-forward-to begin.