The trick with science-fiction is getting the equation of science and fiction right. It has to be different every time, of course. You'll get a lot more science, and the metaphysics behind it, in a novel by Stanislaw Lem than you will in a "Star Wars" movie. But the equation has to feel right each time.
Well, it doesn't in Danny Boyle's "Sunshine." It's extraordinary to look at, all the way through -- and exciting too, even though it's derivative of at least a half dozen infinitely better movies, from Tarkovsky's "Solaris" to Ridley Scott's "Alien."
It's just that it's all hooey. There's too much science in the mix, and every bit of it feels utterly bogus. The "fiction" involves absolutely no humor whatsoever, little personality and a good deal of confusion in the bargain.
Please understand that I'm about as far from a dedicated student of astrophysics as it is possible for a human being to be, but I couldn't even begin to buy the premise of this movie: that, in 2057, the sun is dying and a bunch of astronauts are going to nuke it back to its peppy old self.
As absurd as it is, I can buy the part about the sun dying. What I can't buy is that, by 2057, we humans have invented substances so heat-resistant that space ships can fly just a nuke's-throw-away from the sun and even step out into space and work on ship problems in space suits without being incinerated into atomic memories the minute people even thought about it.
You could argue, of course, that the premise of the movie takes care of that -- that the sun is going out, after all. Well, it's not so blinkered yet from its 9,600 degrees Fahrenheit temperature that Earth in the movie is uninhabitable, so I say it's hooey.
Ceding that, it's still not much fun, no matter how involving it is or how dazzling it is to look at. It's odd that Boyle's movie should seem as badly written as it does, because writer Alex Garland was his collaborator on "28 Days Later," a gem of an apocalyptic horror movie. This is the kind of script where no one uses the word "oxygen" when they can say "O two" instead. Boyle was the fellow who came on like a house afire in his funky, funny and harrowing adaptation of Irvine Welch's novel "Trainspotting," which makes the pitiless humorlessness of "Sunshine" odder. Nor is it entirely coherent who, exactly, the bad guy is, and how he survives and why he's such a pain in the rear, other than being bonkers.
Among the "Alien"-style crew here are Michelle Yeoh as the botanist and "O two" tender; Rose Byrne as the emo pilot; Hiroyuki Sanada as the thoughtful captain; and Cillian Murphy, with the creepy cobalt eyes, as the mission's physicist, the one in charge of figuring out how to goose the sun into providing a little more earthly warmth.
There should have been a writing equivalent to figure out a way to do that to the whole movie.
Cool to watch, though, if you can keep on talking yourself into caring.
2 1/2 stars (Out of 4)
STARRING: Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne and Michelle Yeoh
DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
RATING: R for violence.
THE LOWDOWN: Earth in the distant future will turn into an Earth-sicle unless a team of astronauts can re-energize a dying sun.