Friday, March 15, 2013

Movie Review: Moon

    With virtually no money, Duncan Jones and his crew created one of the best science fiction films in…well, ever.  It’s virtually a one man show, with star Sam Rockwell giving a virtuoso performances as Sam Bell, the lone operator of a Moon based fuel mine.  With the help of his trusty robot Gerty, he monitors four great machines that collect fuel to send back to the Earth.  But his three year contract is coming to a close, and he’s really, really ready to go home and be reunited with his woman and child.  This simple premise sets the stage for a classic Heinlein/Clarke style science fiction film, with dashes of Outland, Silent Running, 2001 and more.

    In a time when massive budget films frequently squander the amazing potential in science fiction, this movie came out of nowhere.  First time feature director Duncan Jones worked within what is a shockingly low budget for a theatrically released film, to create a beautiful, crisp, cracking tale.  The same year that the bloated, empty headed and empty hearted monstrosity Avatar crapped its way into multiplexes, this movie (roughly a 60th of the budget) quietly slipped past many people’s attention.  But this is the stuff.  This is the kind of movie that comes along too rarely (though they seem to be gaining in frequency).  Hovering in the lower budget region is giving opportunities for voices in a more substantive type of science fiction.  Solaris, Gattaca, Robot and Frank, The Fountain, and more are looking back to classic science fiction literature of the 50s and 60s and giving it a modern spin without the need to dumb everything down or blow everything up all the time.  Though the trailer reveals certain aspects of the film (like two Sams on screen at one time) I’m going to try to avoid too much detail on the story.  Suffice to say, this movie deals with a few scientific speculations, including some ethical quandaries about how we treat each other, our machines, and how we'll deal with sending people to work in space.  Like the previous film in this series of reviews, Gattaca, it avoids the condemnation of technology or scientific advancements that is more typical.  Instead, it looks at the dangers of the abuse of technology, and the cruelties of humans against other humans.  What is a person?  When do we have a duty to treat a thing like a being?  This holds true for Sam, but also for Gerty, who works as a kind of follow up, or response to Hal.  He (it) is the mellow voiced machine that monitors our human hero and helps maintain his living space.  Can a machine be trusted in a post Hal world?

    Moon is an absolute must for any genre fan.  But beyond that, it’s a well scripted, well acted piece of drama.  The fact that it takes place on the Moon should not pigeonhole it as a movie only good for nerds or dweebs (though we like it, too).  Some of the circumstances may be outside the realm of many people’s lives but the emotion certainly isn’t.  I don’t want to give away too much in my review, so I’m going to keep it short.  Do yourself a favor and make the effort to find this film and see it.  The music alone is worth the price of admission.  Clint Mansell creates yet another evocative score that manages to be at times rousing, sad, and haunting.  Remember that it was made on roughly five million dollars, in a day when thirty million is considered ‘low budget’ and many TV shows have budgets or a million dollars an episode.  Using practical effects, models, AND computer effects, they created a more effective, more believable, more ‘solid’ setting than many effects-heavy movies with much higher budgets.  And this was all done by a first time film director, not some well established titan.  It should be an inspiration to young filmmakers and veteran filmmakers who still have some of that youthful spark.  And it should shame purveyors of flashy trash like the Transformers movies or Avatar.  Necessity is the mother of invention, and low budget cinema has always been the place to find the most inventive and interesting stuff.  It’s where the visionaries are able to run with their passion and make things you can almost never see in bigger budget, mainstream film.  Make the effort.  See it.  It’s worth your time.


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