Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Moon (2009)

If Dark Star got 2001: A Space Odyssey pregnant, Silent Running delivered the baby and Solaris was also involved somehow, maybe teaching Lamaze classes or something, we'd have Moon. It's the kind of intelligent science fiction film that they stopped making after Star Wars came out. It's very small story with little to no CG. There aren't any laser guns or aerial battles or weird aliens. It's directed by David Bowie's son Duncan Jones, but Bowie doesn't appear as Ziggy Stardust or contribute any songs or anything. Not even Space Oddity. There are robots but they are friendly and voiced by Kevin Spacey.

The movie takes place at a mining station on the moon that uses some sort of fusion technology to generate energy for Earth. Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the sole occupant of the station and it's his job to oversee the day-to-day operations and occasionally collect the little tubes of energy from the moon-harvesters and shoot them back to Earth. So much of it is automated that you wonder why he's there at all, most of the time he's just sitting around carving models or watching TV. He's got two weeks left on his three year contract and he's looking forward to seeing his wife and kid again so much that he's getting space madness.

Obviously it's a pretty lonely job. Sometimes he gets pre-recorded messages from his bosses or his wife but long range communications have been broken for a while so his only real companion is a robot named GERTY, a big, white boxy thing that travels around suspended from a ceiling track. Science fiction movies have taught us to be wary and suspicious of robots but GERTY is actually really nice. His voice is monotone but warm and friendly (Kevin Spacey does a great job naturally) and he's got a little screen with a smiley face that indicates his mood. He even defies Sam's boss in order to help him out and it's not like he breaks his programming to do it, it's just that he is programmed to look after Sam and that requirement trumps everything else. You are awesome GERTY. HAL could learn a thing or two from you.

The look of the interior sets is quite interesting. It's obviously inspired by the white, functional aesthetic of 2001: A Space Odyssey but it looks grubby and lived-in, proving what I've always thought about these sterile, all-white interiors: They must be a bitch to keep clean. The technology looks bulky and dated, almost retro-futuristic. Most of the monitors look like CRT screens instead of LCD panels. Maybe I'm just picky but I found it a little distracting, like the film was trying too hard to replicate the look of older science fiction films, but overall it was a good compromise between spiffy futurism and working-class functionality. Much of the exterior stuff was done with models and it ends up looking way better than if they'd spent it on CG.

Here on in it's spoilers up the ass, so stop reading if you haven't seen it. Okay, is he gone? Just between you and me, what the fuck is up with that guy, he hasn't even seen Moon? I know, right? Anyway, clones. What I liked about the way they revealed things was that it wasn't done Shyamalan-style, whipping the sheet off the big twist with a drum roll and an orchestral sting. I've heard people say it's too easy to guess but I think they are missing the point. The twist comes relatively early and leaves plenty of time to contemplate what it means in context. Using it show the conflict between the "young" Sam and the "old" Sam was a clever way of illustrating how he had grown and changed after three years of isolation. Sam Rockwell gives several great performances.

I was a little disappointed to learn that Sam(s) had only been up there for 15 years or so. There must be some serious quality control issues if things are going so wrong this early in the operation. I was expecting that Sam had actually been up there for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, firing the energy canisters back to an Earth that is long since cold and dead. That would explain why he couldn't contact anyone on Earth, which brings up another point. If you're going to build a bunch of jammers for long range communications so Sam can't contact Earth, why have long range coms accessible to him at all? Just put in some dummy software. What kind of morons are running this evil corporation?

Okay, so maybe if the human race had been wiped out the film would probably have a bummer of an ending, but I'm not sure how his escape plan was supposed to work anyway. I think these canisters are pretty important so no doubt he'll be discovered (and probably killed) by a Lunar Industries Retrieval Team a couple of minutes after he lands. Either that or he lands in the middle of the ocean and drowns before he's picked up. Plus I'm pretty sure that someone back on Earth must have noticed that an extra clone had been woken up. Someone must be monitoring their status, it's not like they're pop tarts.

Anyway I'm being kind of nitpicky here because this is a pretty great film. Probably isn't going to change your life but it can sit proudly alongside the other films I've mentioned. I've heard complaints that it's too derivative of other science fiction films and I can definitely see that, but intelligent science fiction films are as rare as fuck these days so I'm willing to give it a pass due to extenuating circumstances.

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