Sunday, July 12, 2009

Review: "Moon"

In Moon director Duncan Jones has created something I thought was long-gone; a thought-provoking, intelligent and entertaining Science Fiction film that doesn't rely on lasers, ridiculously loud explosions and millions of dollars worth of CGI to keep your attention. Starring Sam Rockwell (pictured) and the voice of Kevin Spacey, Moon hearkens back to movies like Silent Running and Alien, where the real bad guys were (prophetically) the giant corporations which run the world.

Rockwell is Sam Bell, an astronaut and sole human crew-member of a mining outpost on the far side of the moon, which has been found to contain a safe, cheap and limitless energy supply, solving all of Earth's ecological problems. Sam's three-year contract is coming to a close, and he's looking forward to going home to see his wife, Tess (Dominique McElligott) and their daughter, Eve. He sends recorded messages back and forth, which can take several days to reach home, because the satellite is broken and live-feed communications are down. The only other crew member is Gerty (Spacey), a multi-unit robotic computer that can perform every task from haircuts and meal prep to maintenance and medical procedures. Think HAL meets MOTHER meets The Holo-Doctor meets Flo-Bee.

Sam is completely over it and counting the days until he goes home. He spends his time sending payloads home, watching TV from the 60's and working on an elaborate and faithful wood carved model of his hometown. He has just two weeks left, when a problem arises with one of the mining robots and he has to go out and fix it. But Sam's begun to hallucinate. He thinks he sees someone standing beside the giant machine and has an accident, causing a complete shutdown and the practical destruction of his pressurized rover. As debris continues to fall on the vehicle, Sam manages to get on his helmet before blacking out. He awakens in sickbay with no memory of the accident (nor scars, bruises or the bandage that covered his recently scalded hand), which makes us suspicious when Sam asks "How long have I been out?" and Gerty answers "Not long." When a wobbly Sam gets out of bed against orders, he catches Gerty in what sounds like an impossible live feed conversation with the Company. Tricking Gerty into letting him outside, Sam goes to investigate the stalled robot and comes across the crushed vehicle with a badly injured man (who looks an awful lot like him), inside. Needless to say, he finds this a bit of a mind f**k. No spoilers here, but the real story is not in the reason why there are two Sams, but how they deal with it and the ethical implications of their simultaneous existences. And how they eventually conspire to fight back.

Rockwell, who is always so good in supporting roles (The Green Mile; Galaxy Quest) is revelatory as two versions of the same man, with most of the same memories. At first, they are violent and angry with one another, but as they both realize what has been perpetrated against them, their commonality takes over and they form an odd, brother-like bond. While spare and relatively action-free, Jones manages to keep the pace moving along nicely. We get a good sense of Sam's loneliness early on and exposition is handled in concisely brief images, short recorded messages and snatches of dream sequences. Nathan Parker's screenplay (from a story by Jones) is smart, funny, weird and touching, all while raising questions about everything from bio-ethics and artificial intelligence to the effects of long-term isolation and the need to validate one's own existence. Heady stuff, indeed. But well-handled and beautifully acted. So far, my pick for the best movie of 2009. Moon is almost certain to land on my Top Ten list in December. **** (Four Stars)

Oh - and on a completely unrelated note, I have finally named my parakeet: Skye.

More, anon.



Sam Juliano said...

OK, I am definitely not a fan of the film, but I feel guilty writing it here as you have written a most persuasive and enthusiastic appraisal. I did like Sam Rockwell and Clint Mansell's score and I am a big sci-fi fan (I thought THE FOUNTAIN, A.I. and GATTACA were masterful, among among others) but some of the ideas here were redundant, and the film was plodding. But your reaction presents the other side, and as I say it's superbly conveyed.

Prospero said...

AI continues to be Speilberg's best film for me, so I know we have at least that in common. I went in expecting a quiet, low-key borefest. What I got was a fascinating study in character, presenetd by a masterful actor at the height of his talent. I think looking at it from an actor's perspective helps. Glad you liked teh review, if not the film! :)