March 15, 2009 -- I wanted to see this film when it was first released, but I missed it on the one day it played in Laramie during a film series. This is a movie that should be seen in a theater, not on a little cathode ray tube like I did. Finally seeing it was a disappointing experience. The film has stunning visuals and good special effects. The extras on the DVD were very good, and I loved the audio track with the film's science advisor, but the feature film itself left a lot to be desired from the standpoint of plot, character development and scientific credibility. It came off as a half-assed ripoff of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
The film depicts a desperate attempt to re-start the sun, which is dying. A spaceship is on its way to the sun to deliver a “mini Big Bang” bomb which will re-ignite the sun. On the science soundtrack, the film's science advisor notes this impossible plot point was set in stone before he came on board. He and other scientists managed to find an implausible scientific explanation for the sun to behave in the way depicted, but it depends on the existence, and specific placement, of a theoretical super symmetrical nucleus called a “Q ball” left over from billions of years ago. That is shaky in the extreme. The sun's not going to wipe us out for another 4 billion years or so. By then, we will have either moved on, or we will all be toast, one way or another. We are much more likely to be wiped out by an asteroid or comet, but those movies (like “Deep Impact” or “Armageddon”) have been done before, and better.
The second impossible plot point has the ship's crew suddenly discovering the existence of an earlier version of the same kind of ship sent on the same mission, the ship makes a detour to rendezvous with the other ship in order to give themselves a second chance to complete their mission. While making the rendezvous both ships are damaged. The guy making the calculations to change course makes a crucial mistake which jeopardizes the mission. My question is why is just one guy making these complicated calculations when the ship has a giant “Deep Thought” kind of computer? Can't the computer at least double check this guy's calculations? Can't somebody else double check this guy's figures, like the physicist on board, Capa (Cillian Murphy of “Red Eye”) for instance? Even the Apollo missions 40 years ago had flight computers! Are we really supposed to believe the ship's flight computer can't handle a simple course correction like this? Why isn't the computer monitoring the heat shield alignment? Why do the alarms only go off after it is too late? Instead, everybody blames this one poor shmuck for screwing up the whole mission, so he kills himself.
In the end he's not the only guy on the mission who kills himself. It is an epidemic in this movie. Who performed the psychological evaluations for these space flights? Hannibal Lecter? It is like all the crew members of the mission are cut in the mold of that crazy astronaut with the diapers who tried to kill her romantic rival a few years back. All this suicidal, crazy behavior makes for high drama, but it makes it damned near impossible to identify with the characters in this film. First of all, the film is so busy covering all these crazy plot points like this ghost space ship, the killer math mistake, and a mysterious murderous boogeyman who suddenly appears, that it fails to develop any of the characters. Secondly, the characters behave so erratically, with such big mood swings, that they seem hardly human at all. The boogeyman is actually a potentially interesting character, but you never really see him all that well, and like the rest of the characters in this movie, he is overcooked and underdeveloped. The crew in this film is like the Three Stooges, only not funny. Give me the spaceship crews from “Deep Impact,” or even “Armageddon” any day of the week over this looney tunes mob.
The movie's final scenes include some fantastic, lyrical images. The images are scientific nonsense, of course. They are impossible. You can excuse them as some sort of poetic license. Paradoxically, the best defense of these romanticized images comes not from a poet, an artist, or even a filmmaker, but from the science advisor's audio track on the DVD. This audio, from Professor Brian Cox, Royal Society University Research Fellow in Particle Physics at the University of Manchester, waxes poetic about the beauty of the universe. He sells that final climactic scene in the film far better than the film itself does. His words are far better than anything else on the DVD. So I give the DVD and A, but the movie on that DVD rates a C.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.