Moon (Sony Pictures Classics, R)

moon_sm.jpgThe film is a welcome throwback to philosophically interesting science fiction films.





Moon, the first feature directed by Duncan Jones (a.k.a. Zowie Bowie, David’s son), is a welcome throwback to philosophically interesting science fiction films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner. So if last year’s big-budget, brain-dead remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still left you soured on the genre (and I’m not even going to mention anything involving Eddie Murphy or television spinoffs), it’s time to give sci-fi another chance. Moon has heart, brains and a sense of humor, not to mention some nifty model-based special effects (there’s that retro ethos again) and a blockbuster performance by Sam Rockwell, making it more than worth the price of admission.

The story is set in an indefinite future in which earth’s energy problems have been solved by harvesting H3 (an isotope of helium) from the moon. The process is largely mechanized and only one human being is required to keep the operation running. Currently it’s Sam Bell (Rockwell), who is nearing the end of his three-year stint and eager to return home to his beautiful wife (Dominique McEligott) and child (Kaya Scodelario). Life on the moon seems to be pretty much like life on earth, except for the isolation: When he’s not tending to the helium-harvesting operation, Sam exercises on a treadmill, tends to his plants, works on a model village, and talks to Gertie the computer (voiced by Kevin Spacey), who is his only onsite companion.

If you’ve ever seen a World War II movie, you know that the guy who talks about his future plans is the one who won’t make it back alive. The one thing everyone learned from 2001 is that you can’t trust a computer, no matter how helpful it seems to be. And if you saw Alien, you know you can’t trust big corporations who fund space missions. So without giving too much away, I’ll just say that everything is not as Sam thinks it to be. This is the kind of film where noticing the echoes of previous films is a pleasure rather than an annoyance. Screenwriters Jones and Nathan Parker have come up with several interesting twists on the basic tropes, not to mention a solution to all labor problems present and future, which is sure to set capitalists to salivating.

Rockwell carries the film almost by himself, and gives one of the best "I’m my own double" performances in the history of film. Equally good are the special effects, which combine models with CGI, producing an imagined world which seems much more real than most created purely by computer. Tony Noble’s production design contrasts the stark beauty of deep space with the institutional white of the space station, the homey grubbiness of Sam’s living quarters, and the well-worn space suit and heavy equipment he operates on the moon’s surface.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Moon’s sly humor, an ingredient which seems to get left out of many films which attempt to deal with the big questions. From the opening public-service announcement for Sam’s company (which seems to be modeled on Monsanto’s greenwashing pitch) to the yellow smiley faces Gertie uses to indicate her emotional state, this is one film which isn’t afraid to have a good time while also providing serious food for thought. | Sarah Boslaugh

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