Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In Brief: MOON (2009)

As the imbecile from The Stand might say, M-O-O-N spells an independent sci-fi film directed by Duncan Jones, set no more than a few decades in our future. By that time Lunar Industries, apparently an American-Korean consortium, has set up mining operations on the moon as part of a fusion energy business. Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the lone person manning one of the mining sites, attended only by Gerty, a functional non-humanoid robot who speaks with the HAL-ish voice of Kevin Spacey and lamely offers emotional support to Sam by sporting smiley faces or other expressions on a display screen. Bell is near the end of his three-year contract and eager to return to Earth, but he gets into a bad accident near the perimeter of the mining camp. Sam wakes up in the infirmary in a shaky state but quickly grows suspicious about what happened outside. Gerty is reluctant to let Sam back outside until he's fully recuperated but relents when Sam threatens to wreck the station. He's only supposed to check the outside of the station for damage but heads out to the accident site. Finding the wreck of his vehicle, he finds himself (?!?) inside, barely alive and in a bad way.

Sam brings his other self back to the station and Gerty treats him in the infirmary. But the other self found in the vehicle is apparently the first Sam we saw at the start of the film, since he still wears bandages on his hand from a scalding accident we saw. This Sam (Sam I) obviously assumes that the Sam who rescued him (Sam II) is a clone, but after initial denials Sam II begins to suspect that they are both clones. The remainder of the film is their attempt, with uncertain help from Gerty, to get to the truth of things.

I don't want to go overboard complimenting what's really a modest, low-budget film that could just as well have been a SyFy original movie if SyFy actually believed in originality in its movies. But the fact that a genuine sci-fi film, not a space opera, got a theatrical release (however limited) is worthy of celebration. Moon has a few strong things going for it. One is a cleverly manipulative script that visually invokes 2001: A Space Odyssey in several ways in order to misdirect our suspicions. Another is the film's revival of craftsmanship in model work in lieu of CGI. What the model moon sets may lose in realism (and it's not that much) they gain in sheer artistry. Most importantly, Sam Rockwell does a fine job in a dual role in which he has almost nothing else to do but play off himself in variations on an original personality that may no longer exist.

Moon's modesty proves one of its main virtues. I appreciated its indifference to heavy-handed suspense and its willingness to leave some questions (particularly regarding the lifespan of clones) for viewers to figure out for themselves. This film isn't a thrill ride, but science fiction doesn't have to be. Maybe a big-budget would-be blockbuster does, but science fiction doesn't have to be that, either.


Rev. Phantom said...

I've been wanting to check this one out. I dig Sam Rockwell. The biggest complaint I've heard about MOON is that it is boring, which has made me avoid it, but people get bored quite easy these days. I have a high threshold for boring movies (see my love for Jess Franco), based on your review, I think I'll give it a chance.

Sam Juliano said...

Then there's the score by Clint Mantsell, which is surely one of the film's finest components. Despite being a lifelong fan of this genre, I thought this film was static, and theat manipulated script never took hold. I agree though that Rockwell was fine for what he was given.
Someone told me that the blu-ray was stunning though.

John said...

A movie that I was thrilled by... it kept me guessing and guessing... and by the end, I'll be honest I had come up with much better endings. That was the only down side to this movie. You imagine so much of what the possibilities could be, by the time you find out... it's kind of let down.

I still enjoyed it.

Lex10 said...

Your "modest" punchline is apt. A clever story well told regardless of genre.

Alex DeLarge said...

One of the few intelligent science fiction films to be released in the past decade. I agree, it has its flaws but trims all excess fat from the story. You can tell that Zowie Bowie, I mean Duncan Jones, really wanted to make a thought provoking and emotional film.

I have the UK blu-ray and the quality is stunning!

Samuel Wilson said...

I should re-emphasize the modesty of Moon's success because I saw paths not taken myself, though I wonder whether a "static" quality wasn't inevitable given the limited setting and cast. Nevertheless I still think the film deserves extra credit merely for trying to be genuine science fiction and succeeding as much as it does.