Posted by: movieotaku | October 13, 2008

Sunshine: A Review

Oh dear, what a particularly awful film.  I suppose this seemed like a smart SF movie to people who produce Freddie Kruger.  But I’m here to look at the science.  Spoilers ahead!

1. Sunshields

OK, the basic idea is realistic and used.  Even the idea of an adaptive sun shield—where the elements angle to optimally deflect the light and radiation—is even plausible.  But what’s with the frikking wall of fire effect when the shield angles back into the light?

Here Comes the Sun!

Also, when Cpt. Kaneda is outside and the shield angles back, I don’t recall him being attached to the ship.  I.e., he was floating there.  And since the shield is spherical I  expect he could just float there, still in the shadow of the shield.  As the ship rotated back into position, the shield would move under him, but he’d still be in the shadow.  It depends on the axis of rotation really.

2. Sun’s Heat

There’s a recurring theme that when the sun directly shines on the ship, it explodes and bursts into flame.  Radiant light would make metal melt, but why would metal explode in a shower of sparks?  Specifically, I’m thinking of the communication towers that leave and re-enter the shadow of the sun shield for, oh, about 5 seconds.  I guess they make metal alloys with some sort of explosive oxidizer and magnesium.

3. Fires on space ships

Fires on space ships have been a concern for a very long time.  If they are sending a space ship to the sun, why didn’t they have more effective fire supression systems?  Just to even handle ordinary fire situations.  It just seemed to me that if you’re going to have a flammable room, like the oxygen room, you’d maybe have planned and designed it to be sealable and let it burn itself out, or at least void the room to space rapidly.

4. What the @$! is up with that ending?

A wtf moment from Sunshine (2007)

What was that at the end?  Somehow the surface of the sun and the magic nuclear reaction behind him managed to stay in perfect balance for almost a minute and he could touch the surface of the sun and thus conquer his fear.  What the fuh…?

5. Gravity returns when the airlock is pressurized.

A reader had suggested this before, but now having seen the scene.  I gotta ask: has humanity mastered artifical gravity by this time such that they can turn it on the moment an airlock is pressurized?

The Rest of the Movie

I’d like to focus entirely on the science, but this movie was pretty painful for me.  The crew seemed like a bunch of college dorm dwellers thrown into a really bad camping trip.  The crew seemed… unprofessional.  And far less trained and together than you would have expected.  They also make sure one, and only one, person can do any job on the ship.  For a crew replicating a previous failed mission, I might think they’d want to have multiple redundancies.

And the worst part: I thought this was just an sci-fi thriller.  No, it’s a slasher film.  The director uses some stupid tricks (e.g., 1 to 2 frame still picture inserts to create a sense of foreboding) to goose the story, and the final bit with a psycho, 3rd degree burned astronaut from the first failed mission stalking the crew and slashing/stabbing them was just too much. Considering the writer and director gave us 28 Days Later, I really only have myself to blame.

Ugh!  Thumbs down from me.

Update (13 Oct 2008):

6. Oxygen Garden

That oxygen garden may have been too small for the size of that crew:

“… let us just say that between 300 to 400 plants are needed to produce enough oxygen to keep a person alive in an hour”.



  1. In response to point 2: Well I don’t recall things blowing up or catching fire when subjected to the Sun’s fury, more like -blown away-. I can’t do the math right now at the moment but my tree-swinging monkey instincts tell me that at that distance from the sun, the radiation could blow apart matter in a manner similar to a powerful laser. That doesn’t factor in the possible influence of the solar wind, which would likely be damn thick that close to the sun.

    I’m also surprised you didn’t touch upon the film’s premise. Or the great problem’s great solution. Any disaster threatening Earth can be solved with nukes it seems nowadays. Asteroids (Armageddon)? Nuke it! Comet (Deep Impact)? Nuke it! Earth lost its magnetic field (The Core)? Nuke it! The Sun’s reactions are weakening (Sunshine)? Nuke it!

    Keep nuking stuff Hollywood, Godzilla’s getting lonely. 😛

  2. I didn’t like “Sunshine” much either. It started pretty interestingly enough, but then it just devolved into a ridiculous mess when they all began to “lose it” and go cabin fever crazy alla “The Shining”. Why didn’t they just play it straight and stick to a “how to” sci-fi movie like “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “The Andromeda Strain” where we simply follow the scientistists as they try to solve the problem at hand?

    I think they really lost the opportunity to make a good and interesting science fiction movie by not focusing on the technology of what a space voyage to the Sun would entail. I thought that the writer did do a pretty good, high-concept job working out how a spacecraft could be designed to take the enormous heat and energy it would receive as it got closer and closer to the Sun. If they stuck with that, instead of morphing a hard science fiction film into an action-adventure/slasher film, it would have been a better end-result.

  3. The radiation would quickly kill anybody traveling that close to the sun, even with thick shielding.

    Furthermore, there’s nothing you can do with a nuclear device in the corona of the sun that would do anything to its interior or re-ignite it.

    I don’t mind Star Trek-like phantasy and new physics. But this mix of current-day technology and fiction is incongruous.

  4. I was impressed that you could survive a 100 meter blast through the vacuum of space with just some tin foil wrapped around you. Surely that’s not possible!

    • I also thought that in a vacuum – such as space, Liquid (blood) would boil. A body outside a pressurized suit would not have a chance – even for a few moments.

  5. I’ve got a few questions also : I liked the movie, but please dont pretend that real science and physics was involved.

    1. How did the first space ship stop? With that kind of weight and speed, momentum would have carried it on to who knows where, even with engines out.
    2. Likewise, how did they get the second space ship to stop and then start up again. MOMENTUM. Would require a lot of thrust to stop and start the ship.
    3. The ship was supposedly orbiting mercury. If thats the case, the shield would not be blocking the sun. The shield would only put the rest of ship in shadow if the ship is heading directly into the sun.

    The list goes on…….

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