I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Moon

tn_moon(from the request line…)

Remember SUNSHINE? Well now we have MOON. It’s not really at all like SUNSHINE, because it’s about being on the moon, not going to the sun. But it’s another serious, thoughtful sci-fi movie, which is kind of like a bald eagle these days. They still exist but you don’t see them too often (and sometimes their beaks are deformed [not sure if that last part is a criticism of SUNSHINE’s last act or just me not knowing when to end the analogy]).

mp_moonMOON is another loneliness in space movie like SUNSHINE, 2001 and DARK STAR. And come to think of it it’s working class in space like DARK STAR or ALIEN. Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell (the name suggests this is possibly an autobiography in my opinion), the one person on a moonbase watching over the equipment a corporation uses to harvest some kind of helium energy. He’s near the end of his 3-year contract and is obviously at the end of his rope. He seems to be kind of like the night watchman, a guy who just hangs out making models and using the gym and every once in a while has to drive out in a rover to jostle something around, load something or check on the equipment.

It might be kind of a cool job for a while. You get to see the moon. I’m sure Earth looks gorgeous from up there. And sometimes isolation can be nice. I’d probaly get more writing done up there. Figure out how to fix that novel.

On the other hand the loneliness and boredom are gonna eat at your soul. The craziest part is this guy has a family he left behind. Apparently there was some kind of marital strife, so maybe that’s his dramatic gesture of separation – living alone on the moon. But he gets recorded messages from his wife, and it’s obviously tough. Shouldn’t have signed up for 3 years. That’s a little long.

Like THE HURT LOCKER he just has to wait out the 2 weeks and he’s home free. But he’s losing it, both mentally and physically. He’s seeing things. There’s an accident and a major error in the base’s operations that the movie is about, I won’t say what it is. But, you know, moon stuff happens. Can he make it? Is the company trying to screw him? Is it time to unionize?

The ship’s computer is a great cinematic creation. His name is GERTY, his voice is Kevin Spacey, and his physical body is a box of machinery that moves inside the base suspended from a ceiling track, like track lighting or the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland. He also has – separate from his body – one of those robot arms that used to play chess. And he has a screen that roughly illustrates his moods as different smiley or frowny face icons. It’s amazing how much personality they get out of him within those limitations.

Of course you’re not gonna trust a machine like this. It’s not human. It’s programmed for a corporation to maximize productivity and profits. But the ingenious part is that GERTY isn’t evil. It does what it can to protect Sam. It even seems to lie to the corporate overlords at one point. I’m not saying it’s Wall-E, but compared to HAL 9000 or Mother this is a lovable computer. And I think it’s just an accident. It’s not taking on humanity or anything, learning to have emotions. I think it just happens to fall within its programming to help Sam in these situations. And to try to be nice to him. I like seeing a computer trying to do things like break bad news lightly or answer touchy questions honestly. Their relationship, or simulated relationship, is my favorite part of the movie.

I figured this movie was fairly low budget, later read that it was VERY low budget. But it looks like exactly the right amount of money was spent. A good set, and I think they use models for the exteriors. Looks good. But of course the movie belongs to Rockwell’s performance. He’s funny and crazy and more sympathetic than in many of his roles, with a touch of Giamatti shlubbiness.

It’s a solid movie from first-time director David Bowie’s Son. Not gonna replace the iconic sci-fi classics, but will remind you that they don’t make ’em like this too often. But they’re out there, flying high and proud, like our nation’s symbol the bald eagle. the end.

NON-SPECIFIC SPOILERS BELOW

Most people I’ve talked to who have seen the movie seem to immediately bring up the matter of a specific thing that turns out to be going on, and it being easy to see coming. I must be slow because I definitely don’t think I was ahead of the movie, and possibly a little behind where I was supposed to be. But I didn’t see this as a plot twist movie and wouldn’t want to make a big deal out of “figuring it out” or not.  It doesn’t matter. There’s a bit of a mystery at first and then it resolves itself and the joy is in watching it unfold, not trying to be the best puzzle solver.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Friday, August 28th, 2009 at 9:57 pm and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

18 Responses to “Moon”

  1. Saw this back in June when it came to the Canal Place Landmark theater. Damn good film in my opinion but I’m a big space junkie, always got to look at the new High-res photos they’re taking out there, so maybe I’m not the best person to ask.

    Here’s hoping with this and WALL-E we keep getting experiment films of solidarity, and not just in space.

  2. Well written review, Vern, and you nicely evaded some of those larger spoilers. I agree with you on Gerty, it was a nice touch having the onboard computer kind of be the opposite of HAL and look out for the humans instead of the mission. Looking forward to seeing this one again on DVD.

  3. and space loneliness is one of the greatest tags ever

  4. So you are working on a NOVEL, Vern? Like a Stephen King Book? A fictional story of a Badass? An account of glorious violence?
    Or is it another Movie review book(which would be cool too)?

  5. One of the key things the filmatists do in order to trick you into thinking the computer is evil (or going to do something evil) is getting Kevin Spacey to do the voice, which would unnerve most people, let’s be honest.

    I really liked MOON; probably my favourite new film of this year, behind LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. The minimal (or non-existent) use of CGI was hugely refreshing – I heard the director got all the old-school model makers for a song, ’cause they were all sitting around in London doing nawthing.

    Coming out of MOON, I remember thinking that it had echoes of loads of other science-fiction films, some classic (BLADE RUNNER, 2001, ALIEN), some not (OUTLAND, 2010, SOYLENT GREEN, THE PRESTIGE), but that MOON held it’s head up high. The main part was written specially for Sam Rockwell, apparently, and is the first part of a trilogy about life in the future. The next is called MUTE and supposedly, is set on the overpopulated Earth glimpsed in Sam’s videos from home.

    Good review, although I’d consider mentioning the robot being a friend as a SPOILER. When I watched it, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was going to leave a head in a box or shoot Gabriel Byrne or something.

  6. OJ (not that one)

    August 29th, 2009 at 2:35 am

    I thought that The Thing Going On was suggested in the trailer already and I remember being slightly disappointed at This turning out to be true, but to my surprise found myself just caring about Sam’s situation a minute later. The vague feeling of not having been out-thought by the movie enough remained but finally vanished when the movie turned out to have a beautiful ending.

    VERY satisfying movie. (Far better than District 9 which was shown directly afterward–although the movies’ intentions are very different, so YMMV.)

  7. A good argument to avoid all trailers (save for films which you could could barely give a shit about)…

  8. A good argument to avoid all trailers (save for films which you could could barely give a shit about)… I’m going to try and steer clear of much DISTRICT 9 stuff until it comes out in Ireland next Friday, although I suspect it’s not the sort of film that is reliant on plot twists or sneaky reveals.

  9. Nice to see someone holding up the oft forgotten trend of not giving away the plot in a review Vern. A lot of motherfuckers have forgotten that.

    On the topic of the “twist that isn’t really a twist but we’re gonna avoid mentioning it” (although saying that I’d say there are a couple of twists, the first sets up the plot, the second reveals the truth of what the corporation are doing to sam up there, which i’d agree with Vern I was’t on top of that till it happened) I really loved the fact that it played out like that. A lot of lesser film makers would have held onto as some big DUNDUNDUN moment but zowie bowie (come on man, it’s your name, none of this duncan jones shit, be honest) realised that it’s far more interesting watching Sam interact with the twist, seeing his reaction and how it affects him. Which I think is what makes it feel like “proper” sci-fi.

    I’ll be going to see District 9 next friday in the UK and I’ve gotta say it’s pretty damn amazing that we’ve had two awesome and smart sci-fi films out a month apart. Good times.

  10. Jareth Cutestory

    August 29th, 2009 at 6:14 am

    Jam: you wrote that you “heard the director got all the old-school model makers for a song.” I’m trying to resist the urge to make a joke about the song in question being “Space Oddity.”

  11. Thanks for the reveiw Vern. About Spacey voicing Gerty, I like to think that in the movie universe the corporation actually hired Spacey to provide his voice rights, and it’s just something not mentioned.

  12. You’re right, the GERTY stuff is a spoiler, didn’t think about that. Sorry if that ruined anything for anybody.

    Travis, I did start a novel but it’s in no danger of being finished. I thought I was gonna finish it this year as part of my new year’s resolution, but I got totally stuck. I got various unfinished fictional shit I’d like to do but don’t plan to give up on the film books either. Just gotta find the time, which is why I have been checking Craigslist in case this moon job comes up.

  13. Great review Vern. Saw the movie earlier this year and I gotta say I was a little disappointed. I guess I’m one of those people who could see everything coming before it happened. Still though it was a cool little movie. Speaking of weird sci-fi movies when are you going to take on the mother of all them Zardoz??

    Need a reason to review it?? How about this….. http://geekof alltra des.files.wordpress.com/2008/06/zardoz.jpg

  14. I think the grealt thing about this movie, for me, anyway, is I guessed the “twists” if you want to call them that roughly 5 minutes before each happened. It was right to the point where I was thinking, “oh man, is that what we’re gonna have to spend the next hour pretending we don’t already know?” and then — pow. They just tell you, and then the story goes on.

    People are such twist-nazis today that I think I’d honestly forgotten that a film like this could actually be about character and plot instead of mind-fucking. I think the movie’s about perfect in every way, a real surprise. Its unique, intellectual, and ambitious without being showy, cerebral, or pretentious. Fuck of a job, Zowie! (No, I think this earns him the right to be called “Duncan” if he wants. But think it over before you give up on Zowie, bro!)

    And hopefully it will remind people they need to stop fucking around and rent “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” Rockwell’s other other pitch-perfect showpiece performance and a fantastic film in its own right.

  15. I think that you don’t need to solve puzzles within a film. Films should be seen as a way of personal experience, if you’re interested, than in the second viewing you may want to think about that.

  16. Not just derivative but downright plagiaristic of its sources, particularly 2001 and Steven Soderbergh’s SOLARIS (which is a far superior thoughtful sci-fi movie that is very very similar to MOON), with a bit of SILENT RUNNING. So you’ve got an onboard computer, voiced by Kevin Spacey doing an obvious HAL 9000 impression, and a lonely, paranoid astronaut … and you STILL include a scene where he won’t open the doors? And one where Sam Rockwell wishes his daughter a happy birthday from space?

    Never mind that, Sam Rockwell spends THREE YEARS in space on his own? When Jack Torrance wanted to carve up his family after one winter? That stopped me getting into MOON even before the dumb twist that it would be more cost efficient to create hundreds of clones of one man instead of pay a few guys to do what is, as far as we can tell, an incredibly easy job.

    It all felt like the kind of story you come up with aged 11 after seeing 2001 and ALIEN and maybe SOLARIS for the first time. Which maybe it was. Still, Sam Rockwell was great, the music was very ominous and I liked the photography and sets (which were very similar to 2001 and SOLARIS).

  17. SPOILERZ

    but who says they have hundreds of clones, and who says that’s not cheaper than paying a guy to stay on the moon? You said yourself that staying on the moon for three years is fuckin nuts, obviously the only reason to do it would be if they pay you a shitload of money. Like going on a fishing boat in Alaska. And you know, maybe it *is* more expensive to have clones, but they still would rather do that than have a human have to do it. Or train a new one. Who knows?

    And I think the robot is very different from HAL, but I went into detail on that in my review so I won’t bore you with that.

    You’re right though, it’s no 2001.

  18. Sam — I’m gonna have to disagree with you on this one — a robotic voice and an existential plot set in space do not a ripoff make. While the setup is a little similar to Soderbergh’s SOLARIS remake (not even the original one, at least not as much) the tone and the themes are pretty different, especially in the way that it all comes together.

    I have to agree with Vern — the arguement about the implausibility is pretty weak. Considering the cost of sending people into space, the fact that they would have to send someone at least every three years (and more often in case someone wigged out, which is bound to happen eventually if you keep using different people) and the fact that they will never have to pay anyone again could well make the plan financially sound. One big capital investment at the start would mean they never spend another dime on transportation, trainingg or labor. Depending on how cheap the cloning is (and it looks like they would qualify for a bulk discount) and the fact that they look like they intend to let this setup last decades at least, and I think it quite feasible that this could work from a financial standpoint.

    And dude — if you’re gonna be so skeptical about science fiction I have no idea how you could enjoy 2001 or SOLARIS eiether. MOON is about as practical and grounded a sci fi film as I am aware of.

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