PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 April, 2007, 12:00am

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Michelle Yeoh Choo Kheng, Hiroyuki Sanada

Director: Danny Boyle

Category: IIB

The central premise of Sunshine is hardly original. The Alien films are probably the best known examples of astronauts meeting their demise one by one while on a perilous mission.

Sunshine's most obvious homage is to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Like Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, its sumptuous special effects and eerie ambience make for a majestic visual feast. However, Sunshine is more than just a homage. It can only be done justice in light of the filmography of director Danny Boyle. Whereas most space thrillers rely on man's fear of machines, Sunshine has its roots in Boyle's obsession with the spiritual strengths and weaknesses of mortals - as seen in various of his earlier films such as Shallow Grave, Trainspotting and his apocalyptic 28 Days Later.

Most of Sunshine is set aboard Icarus II, a vast spaceship carrying a team of eight whose mission is to reinvigorate the dying Sun by launching a nuclear bomb at it.

It begins - like many a space thriller - with a multicultural crew in a state of resigned listlessness that's punctuated only by exchanges of technical jargon and the odd personality clash.

Then, they receive a signal from Icarus I, a spaceship that lost contact with Earth while on the same mission years earlier. The decision to divert Icarus II towards the ship sets off a chain of events that tests the crew and threatens to derail the mission. And this is when the film really flourishes - not because of the nail-biting thrills or stunning imagery - but because of its focus on how the crew handle their predicament. But this is no Armageddon. Under Boyle's direction, heroism

is a relative thing - not action-packed derring-do accompanied by a cheesy soundtrack.

Sunshine excels not only because of Boyle's direction and Alex Garland's screenplay, but thanks to a strong showing from a diverse cast - particularly Cillian Murphy as a perplexed physicist, Chris Evans as a no-nonsense engineer, Michelle Yeoh and Hiroyuki Sanada.

The film certainly isn't without its flaws - the philosophical musings often border on pretentious, for example. But Sunshine is a far more worthy (and accessible) heir to Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris than Steven Soderbergh's frightful remake.

Sunshine opens today