A timely reminder that science fiction can be (gasp!) intelligent and thoughtful . . .
STARRING: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey
Directed by: Duncan Jones
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
It is the near future. Astronaut Sam Bell is living on the far side of the moon, completing a three-year contract with Lunar Industries to mine Earth’s primary source of energy, Helium-3. It is a lonely job, made harder by a broken satellite that allows no live communications home. Thankfully, his time on the moon is nearly over, and Sam will be reunited with his wife, Tess, and their three-year-old daughter, Eve, in only a few short weeks. Suddenly, Sam’s health starts to deteriorate. Painful headaches, hallucinations and a lack of focus lead to an almost fatal accident on a routine drive on the moon in a lunar rover. While recuperating back at the base (with no memory of how he got there), Sam meets a younger, angrier version of himself . . .
If you count yourself a fan of so-called “hard SF” and read a lot of works by the likes of Joe Haldeman, Frederik Pohl, Alastair Reynolds and Robert Silverberg then here is something totally unexpected: a movie made just for you . . . and almost no-one else! If you didn’t recognize any of the names dropped here then the chances are that Moon, directed by Duncan Jones (also known as Zowie Bowie, son of David), will catch you unawares.
Ever since Star Wars back in 1977 science fiction movies for most have been nothing but action or horror movies with sci-fi trappings. Moon is a throwback to a much earlier era, the late-1960s and early 1970s when science fiction movies was a clothesline onto which film-makers could hang ideas and issues. Moon most closely resembles Silent Running (1972) in which a lone astronaut with only robots for companions must cope with crippling loneliness and Solaris (also 1972) in which an astronaut investigates weird goings on at a remote outpost. Moon is indeed a space oddity (groan) . . .
At one point Moon looks as if it is in danger of turning into Outland, the 1981 “remake” of High Noon in which a lone lawman played by Sean Connery awaits the imminent arrival of a space shuttle that will bear three professional assassins sent to kill him. Moon however never goes the action movie or horror route, which will come as a disappointment to adrenaline junkies more accustomed to current Hollywood ADD film-making. Moon is a (dare we say it?) realistic look at how people will act in extraordinary circumstances – a staple of science fiction right from the very start.
Someone described Moon as an “art movie in space” and that is an accurate description with one caveat. The term “art movie” has changed much throughout the years largely thanks Hollywood progressively dumbing down and film-makers being afraid to intellectually challenged. If the term “art movie” puts you off, don’t be. Unlike Solaris or 2001: A Space Odyssey, Moon is never willfully obscure or provocative in the way that a Lars von Trier movie will be. It is rather sad that movies with intelligent plotting and believable characterization will be tagged with the dreaded “art movie” label because there was a time when Moon would have been a more memorable Twilight Zone segment. (Moon also makes some statements on corporate malfeasance, but it is subtle and never rammed down one’s throat.)
As hard sci-fi fans we liked Moon. It is the proverbial breath of fresh air – a timely reminder that science fiction can be more than giant robots beating the robot snot out of each other. It can be intelligent and (gasp!) genuinely moving and emotionally affecting. Particular note should be made of the excellent sets and special effects especially of the lunar landscape, put together for a mere $5 million – the amount they usually spend on brown M&Ms for a Tom Cruise production!
That said, the film isn’t perfect. Some story points are muddled and the opening scenes does too good a job at conveying the boredom and ennui experienced by Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) in which must be the most thankless McJob in the entire galaxy. Actor Rockwell is also stellar. At times Moon is a movie which is easier to admire than like, but we gave it an extra half a star because – damn it! – we need more intelligent science fiction movies and will gouge out our own eyes next time we have to watch tiny robots hump Megan Fox’s leg and learn about how robots go to “robot heaven”!
This is a movie for fans of Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein. You know who you are. Go see Moon . . .