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REVIEWS

Sunshine

BETHANY HALFORD, C&EN WASHINGTON, D.C.

poster Fifty years from now, the sun is burning out, plunging Earth into frosty solar winter. In humankind's last hope for survival, the crew of the Icarus II has set out on a mission to reignite the dying star.

As "Sunshine" opens, Icarus II is 16 months into its seven-year mission. Stress and confined quarters have set the crew, which includes a physicist, a biologist, a psychologist, and an engineer (but no chemist), on edge. Scuffles between crew members Mace (Evans) and Capa (Murphy) have become commonplace, and Searle (Curtis), the ship's psychologist, spends all his free time basking in sunlight so that his skin is burnt and blistering.

It's not long before Icarus II picks up a distress signal from its doomed predecessor Icarus I, which inexplicably vanished seven years before without completing its mission. When the crew decides to change its course to rendezvous with the missing ship, things start to go awry with clockwork timing. As anyone who has seen these types of space thrillers knows, the only mystery that remains is how and when each crew member is going to be picked off.

The filmmakers of "Sunshine" hoped to ground the film in science fact rather than in science fiction. To that end, they sought the help of Brian Cox, a physicist at the Centre for European Nuclear Research, as a science adviser on the film. The design of the cramped quarters of the Icarus II was based on research they did on spacecraft and other confined living spaces, such as nuclear submarines and oil rigs. Preparation for the cast included scuba diving; lectures in physics and astronomy; and, for Murphy, a trip in a light aircraft to experience zero gravity.

For the most part, the extra homework seems to have paid off. Icarus II, a tiny ship sitting behind a gigantic golden shield, seems realistic. And aside from a few details, such as the compressed timeline and the fact that the craft can come so close to the sun without being incinerated, "Sunshine" doesn't stray too far into the realm of science fiction. At the very least, "Sunshine" is far more believable than other space thrillers of this kind, such as "The Core" or "Armageddon."