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Moon (2009) Print E-mail
Thursday, 16 July 2009
ImageThere are generally two strains of sci-fi films. One is thought provoking and puts an emphasis on "hard science" (2001: A Space Odyssey being the most famous example, but others are Solaris, Gattaca, and The Fountain). This is often referred to as "hard sci-fi." The other is an action film disguised as science fiction, commonly known as "space opera" (Star Wars, The Fifth Element, etc.). While there are a few properties that have straddled both fences (episodes of the various Star Trek series tended to vaccilate between the two poles), space opera is by far the most prevalent sort of sci-fi to be found in the United States today. That is why, when a hard sci-fi film is released, it's always worth investigating. And, in the case of Duncan Jones' (son of famed musician and actor David Bowie) Moon, the investigation proves that there's plenty of life left in the hard sci-fi genre.
Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the sole crew member of a mining operation on the dark side of Earth's moon. His only companion is a sympathetic robot named Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey), who expresses emotions through smiley face emoticons. He's two weeks away from the end of his three-year contract, and it can't come soon enough, as he's really starting to get lonely. Due to a downed transmitter, Sam can't have a real-time conversation with other humans. Instead, he can only send and receive video messages, including ones from his wife, Tess, and baby daughter Eve. But even though he's almost out, Sam is starting to see some weird things. Glitches in videos and even what may be another person on the station. Is Sam going crazy or is there more to the moon station than meets the eye? Moon is definitely different than most movies. Aside from the self-contained setting, the way the story is told is very atypical. There is a twist that occurs at the end of the first act which would normally only be revealed at the end of the picture. But Jones, being the smart filmmaker that he is, turns conventions on their head and uses the twist to delve into Sam's psyche. Jones' direction is immaculate, turning the piece into a slow burn that unfolds at its own pace. While there is undoubtedly CGI used throughout the film, it's very well integrated and the extensive use of models sells the illusion that Sam is really on the moon. In terms of design, the film wears its influences on its sleeve. Alien and 2001 references pop up constantly (Alien in the "truckers in space" feel of the moon base and 2001 in the constant presence of Gerty), but luckily Jones uses these elements to again defy the audience's expectations.
Sam Rockwell does a spectacular job as Sam Bell. He has to support the film almost single-handedly. We see a few clips of other people from their video messages, and obviously there's Gerty, but Sam is the heart and soul of the piece. This is Rockwell's most impressive performance to date: Nuanced, subtle, and measured. This is Oscar-worthy stuff, but knowing the Academy, will probably be overlooked in favor of an actress with a prosthetic nose.
Kevin Spacey is also a treat as Gerty. While at times he echoes HAL 9000 from 2001, the resemblance is only passing. The use of smiley faces to convey emotion was a stroke of genius, making Gerty simultaneously more likeable and more alien. And yet, do we not communicate in those same symbols when we talk online, an increasingly common form of connection between people? It makes sense that a robot designed to be the only companion for a lonely human would use such simple but effective methods of anthropomorphism. Truthfully, I'd like a Gerty of my own.
It's a little hard to discuss Moon in full without delving into the major twist, as that informs the last two thirds of the film. But suffice it to say that Moon is intelligent, thought-provoking, and never tries to fool or second guess the audience. Duncan Jones' debut directing gig is satisfyingly solid and original, even when its influences are on full display. I can eagerly recommend this picture as one of the best of the year to date, and hope that the vague nature of this review will only serve to entice you into seeing the film to discover exactly what it's all about. And, as Pink Floyd would say, I'll see you on the dark side of the moon.

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