(grumplet) Moon: One Small Step for Real Sci-Fi

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You might remember me bemoaning the state of serious science fiction in my Virtuality post. (Which about as many people read as actually saw the program!) Wellllllll… in the back of my mind, I was looking forward to a movie that had been teased to me for the past six months: Moon. It premiered to generally good buzz at the big film festivals and of course it took forever for it to finally show in Kansas City. And hey, it has a Kevin Spacey A.I. and was directed by David Bowie’s son! So as soon as I was able to cajole my dad into paying for the tickets, off we were to the barren, lonely landscape of Moon.

Is this hip enough for you?!

It’s sometime in the not-too-distant future. Mankind has finally gotten its shit together when it comes to fuel and has invented a method of fusion using Helium-3 to create energy in a similar method to the sun. The problem is, Helium-3 doesn’t exactly grow on trees. The closest place to get it is on the dark side of the moon, where droids harvest it and ship it back to Earth. The only trouble is that someone has to be up there looking after the operation, making sure it goes smoothly. That guy is Sam Bell, who’s at the end of a three year contract and is starting to get antsy for home. The equipment that allows him to communicate with Earth is on the fritz, so he can only receive taped communiques from his company and his wife and small child. His only company is GERTY, a computer A.I. that assists Sam in his functions and does so with his handy robot claws and emoticons that help express his various emotional states. When the… SPACE… MADNESS… starts getting to him on a routine check-up of a harvesting unit, it sets into motion a series of events that make Sam question what it means to be human.

I hesitate to talk too openly about the content of this film, since it works best if you have absolutely NO clue going in about its aim. And this is not your typical space movie. This isn’t Event Horizon, where it’s basically a typical “BOO! Did I scare you?!” horror movie using space as a window dressing. This isn’t Armageddon where you have scintillating pyrotechnics and a cloying anthem by Aerosmith. This is more like 2001 or Solaris, where it’s a somewhat realistic view of mankind trying to navigate space, with a… twist. In 2001 that was the mysterious obelisk that took Dave Bowman on a journey to the next step of the human experience. In Solaris it was a mysterious planet that seemed to call into question the nature of reality and the reliability of memory. There’s a similar hook to Moon, and that’s all I think I should say about it. I think that’s enough information for you to be able to know if you want to see it or not, so I won’t go into any deep story detail.

That being said, the performance from Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell is nothing short of impressive. I’ve heard some Oscar buzz around his role in Moon and while I can’t say I’m terribly optimistic about the Academy giving an Oscar to someone in a science fiction film (has that EVER happened?), I can’t say he doesn’t deserve SOME recognition. It’s a difficult part and he masters it beautifully. It’s nothing on the level of, say, Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood… but what is?~

Have a nice three year contract

And Kevin Spacey… heh. GERTY, in my opinion, is way more cool than HAL-9000. I mean, we’ve all seen the pretenders to HAL’s throne over the years. The most recent example would probably be that steering wheel in WALL-E. Everyone wants an A.I. as iconic as HAL, but few go through the trouble of approaching it from a different angle. GERTY is, superficially, the same concept as HAL, but director Duncan Jones goes in another direction with him that honestly surprised me. You see these HAL knock-offs go through the same motions time and again and I was pleased to see GERTY blaze some of its own path. The fact that it uses adorable smilies with impeccable timing doesn’t hurt, either!

And honestly, it’s just one more piece of the puzzle in this movie to make it the “hip” science fiction movie. I mean, Moon seems to be crafted to be the alternative, Gen-X/Y answer to Kubrick’s 2001. Not only do you have cool cat Sam Rockwell starring, you have Duncan Jones, the son of fucking David Bowie, helming the picture. And that poster is total Hot Topic fodder. The only way you could have more indie cred is if Diablo Cody wrote the screenplay and Zooey Deschanel co-starred as a manic pixie dream girl. LUCKILY, the movie isn’t smarmy, sarcastic or ironic in any way, even if Sam Rockwell does wear a vintage print t-shirt. And it has a pretty neat if unconventional soundtrack by Clint Mansell, the guy that did the music for Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain, instant college dorm classics.

The most damning thing I can say about Moon is that it’s good… not great. It’s not that it does anything wrong, it just never breaks out of the “good” zone. Anyone paying attention will probably figure out the “twist” early on in the movie, and while the twist isn’t the point of the movie, it does ease the tension of the story a bit. Moon is essentially Duncan Jones trying to make his own existential space drama, and while it does a good job at that, it doesn’t break out of 2001‘s or even Solaris‘ shadow. Am I saying stay away form this? No way, it’s worth at least a look from people that appreciate serious-minded science fiction movies. I just wish there had been a few more unique ideas or that the execution had been a little bit more extraordinary. At the end of the day, however, we’re left with a solid entry into science fiction canon, and that’s not a bad thing at all! Catch this while you still can in your area.

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7 Responses to “(grumplet) Moon: One Small Step for Real Sci-Fi”

  1. Hige Says:

    This was an enjoyable film, and I agree more sci-fi should take a philosophical slant on our relationship with space, but… Moon just didn’t consider its concepts thoroughly enough for me.

    I don’t mean I wanted to be slapped around the face with the film’s core ideas – rather I wanted it to dig a bit deeper into the parts that really differentiated it from the influencing films that it so conspicuously hat-tips. It’s obvious the film-makers were actively holding back, maybe trying to mimic the ‘removed’ quality of Kubrick, but it felt like they didn’t quite pull it off leaving me with a fairly tepid concluding reaction.

    Still, it’s a Good Film, all in all. Sam Rockwell particularly should just win an Oscar for affability.

  2. Sean/Shard Says:

    So I just picked this up and it fills a gap that I didn’t know existed. Given that it was Duncan Jones’ first full-length feature and that its budget was a tidy $5 million, I’m really impressed with what he did. You can’t watch the film and wonder, “Where was the money spent?”

    Jones makes the point in a Q&A that Danny Boyle’s Sunshine was considered an indie sci-fi flick with a budget of $50 million.

    He talked about revisiting Moon’s universe in an upcoming film set in Berlin, although it wouldn’t be a direct sequel. Based on what I’ve seen here, I’d definitely give it a shot. Thanks for the head’s-up.

  3. John Mora Says:

    They’re both quality, but the remake is a lot shorter and has a better soundtrack.

  4. Favorite Films and Video Games of 2009 « Grump Factory Says:

    […] but a computer module voiced by Kevin Spacey and a few tinker toys to act off of. As Mora says in his review it never goes beyond “good”, but it’s executed so damn well and it’s scary […]

  5. Grumplet – Source Code: Still Compiling « Grump Factory Says:

    […] what we think of the other one. What about Duncan Jones’ follow-up to his big screen debut Moon? Well I’m getting there, hold yer […]

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