Moon (2009)

moon

“I’m here to keep you safe, Sam. I want to help you.”

The Scoop: 2009 R, directed by Duncan Jones and starring Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey

Tagline: The last place you’d ever expect to find yourself

Summary Capsule: Lonely lunar lunatic finds out that hardcore isolation isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be

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Lissa’s rating: Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle…

Lissa’s review: A lot of people don’t get the attraction of science fiction.  I wish this wasn’t true, but all I know is that when I mention Battlestar Galactica at my mothers’ meeting, sixty-three women stare at me blankly before someone volunteers that her husband loved that show.  But even among men, scifi’s definitely got a reputation.  Aliens, lasers, explosions, and fanboys sitting in their mother’s basement — that’s the popular conception.

The thing is, good sci-fi is so much more than that.  Sure, I like a good explosion or space battle as much as (or often, more than) anybody, but there’s more than that.  Sci-fi is at its best when it examines values and ethics and keeps the human element strongly in mind, no matter how many killer robots or alien life forms are on the screen.  And what that means is, in my opinion, you don’t need a big budget to make a good sci-fi movie.

What interests me so much about sci-fi is that it actually asks some really relevant questions about technology and how that technology impacts our society.  I remember taking a class (required) in grad school called Science and Technology in Society.  And really, I think it’s often something we just don’t think about enough — what the social and moral impact of technology on our society will be.  Sure, you do have some cut and dried cases, but really, they’re few and far between.  Technology can accomplish so much… when do the benefits outweigh the disadvantages?  How many people must be aided to make it worth another, smaller number of people suffering?  If we peruse a certain path, what will it cost us in terms of our souls?  If these issues are explored subtly and without the help of a sledgehammer (Ron Moore, I’m looking at you and your dumb robot montage), or realistically (again, I’m looking at you and your slingshot into the sun), they can make for fascinating and compelling human drama.

The thing about focusing on the ethics and relationships (or a thing, anyway), is that you don’t need special effects so much.  Sure, they’re nice, but too many movie makers get carried away.  (George Lucas and James Cameron, I believe it’s time for your CGI Addicts Anonymous meetings.)  And when that happens, so often the story suffers.  But turn it around, go for the better story and the lesser effects, and you get movies like District 9.

The astute observers among you will notice that I have been talking for four paragraphs and have yet to mention Moon.  Honestly?  If I could avoid mentioning it, I would.  Because Moon was a fantastic movie, but I don’t want to tell you anything about it.  This is one of those that the less you know, the better it is.

Moon, like District 9, is an extremely low-budget movie.  There isn’t much in the way of effects, and the movie doesn’t suffer for it.  Effects would have taken away from the humanity and the plot, and the closed-in feeling of isolation.  There are very few actors.  Sam Rockwell does an excellent job as Sam Bell, which must have been one heck of a role to play.  He’s charismatic and very… open?  I guess?  He really brings you Sam’s world, to the point where you don’t mind that he’s really the only actor on screen, and he carries the movie well.  Kevin Spacey voices GERTY, the computer that helps Sam during his day, and he’s the perfect fit.  And there really isn’t much more in terms of acting.  The movie is almost entirely focused on these two.

Eh, heck with it.  Here’s the thing: I really can’t tell you anything more about this movie.  I just can’t.  It ruins it.  What I can tell you is that it’s a really neat sci-fi suspense mind game, and I really, really enjoyed it.  No explosions and no big budget shots, but excellent story telling and acting.  It’s a buck at Red Box, or no extra fee to see it on Netflix.  Rent it and watch it and enjoy it, because this was a good one.

Just trust me on this.

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Justin’s rating: The beagle has landed

Justin’s review: I was watching a documentary on the early moon landings a little while back, noting the footage shot on the surface, and it really hit me then just how foreign this place was, how there really wasn’t an atmosphere or any colors, and how lonely the astronauts might’ve felt, being that far away from everything else that was human.  I guess that was the point in my life that I stopped romanticizing space travel and got the genuine willies at the thought of going some place so incredibly far away.

Moon, a quiet little scifi drama that landed in the middle of a year dominated by big loud stupid scifi setups, is all about severed humanity cast adrift in the loneliest place in the galaxy.  It’s more or less a one-man play, with Sam Rockwell (Galaxy Quest) as Sam Bell, an employee of a helium mining company who’s wrapping up his three-year contract on the dark side of the moon (cue Pink Floyd).  In charge of the base and its four harvesters all by himself – with the assistance of a HAL-like robot named Gerty (Kevin Spacey) – Sam whittles a little town out of wood, grows plants, runs on a treadmill and composes letters to his wife on Earth to keep sane.

The problem is, from the very first scene, that Sam is unraveling in some small but critical way.  He’s seeing things, off-kilter from talking to himself, and desperate for human contact.  This is all reflected in the worn-down base itself, which is far from the pristine corridors of the Enterprise – in fact, it’s more like the gritty mining vessel Nostromo from Alien than anything else.

Something is going on, and there is a mystery to be solved indeed.  I’d be a foul Scrooge to ruin or even hint toward it, so I’ll just skirt around the meat of the plot to touch on the peripherals instead.  As Sam discovers that everything isn’t quite right, the creeping claustrophobia and isolation closes in.  The score is ominous, the clues unsettling, and the revelation absolutely thought-provoking.  This isn’t a movie where a lot happens, or happens fast, but when it does it sticks with you like a thick dab of peanut butter on the brain.

I deeply appreciated that the science fiction elements weren’t there as the highlight of the story, but just part of the matter-of-fact background.  With another $40 million, this script would’ve been blown up into a crowd-pleasing pile of explosions and snappy lines, but would’ve lost its soul in the process.  Instead, Moon reminds us that one of the things scifi does best is to raise captivating questions about our here and now, but explore them in alien settings to gain a new perspective.

I will say this in conclusion: I’ve never seen a movie where smiley face emotes could have such power to disturb – and move – me.  For that alone, Moon is worthy of your time.

“Well, that’s it. I’m going nudist for the rest of my stay.”

Intermission!

  • Shot in 33 days.  Outdoor moon scenes were shot using practical effects.
  • Many of the “girlie” pictures taped next to Sam Bell’s bathroom mirror are by the classic American pinup artist Gil Elvgren (1914-1980).
  • Before making Moon, Duncan Jones was more famous for being the son of David Bowie.

Groovy  Quotes

Sam Bell: You look like a radioactive tampon.

GERTY: I’m here to keep you safe, Sam. I want to help you.

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