Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fly Me to the "Moon" - A Movie Review

***May contain spoilers.  Use with caution***

Rarely do I get a chance to see a movie before it’s released to the general public.  Gone are the days when I worked at a major motion picture studio (in a minor capacity) where we would get a preview of an upcoming movie.  But recently I had a chance to catch this movie at a film festival and actually meet the director.

Moon from director Duncan Jones stars Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey.    Sam plays lone astronaut, Sam Bell, assigned to a solo 3-year mission on the moon.  His job is to mine and deliver Helium 3 to Earth where it’s being used as a new energy source.  Periodically he receives messages from Earth, but the live communication system is down so he can’t speak directly to his family.  Sam’s only companion is Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey), a robot/computer that takes care of him and the moon base.  Closing in on his 3-year mark, Sam is getting a little stir-crazy.  He daydreams of returning home to his wife and daughter, but also starts seeing things.

On a routine HE3 gathering trip, one of these visions distracts him and he crashes his lunar rover.  Having no memory of the crash, he wakes up to Gerty who tells him he has had an accident and will have to stay in the infirmary for a few days.  While recuperating, Sam thinks he hears voices around the station.  Specifically, Gerty talking to people back on Earth.  His visions also continue as he sees other people on the station – one of them a younger version of himself.

Moon has a very retro sci-fi look and feel.  Very similar in look to 70s sci-fi movies that pre-date and post-date Star Wars.  Director Jones say he was very influenced by movies such as Silent Running, Outland, and Alien.  I could immediately see the influence of Silent Running in the first few minutes of the movie, even though I’ve never actually seen Silent Running.  But I believe it resembles the trailer I saw awhile ago.  It also looks a lot like Outland which I also haven’t seen.  But I did see Alien and it definitely feels like that one.

However, Jones does manage to create his own look for the movie.  He opts for more practical effects, using models and model landscapes for the lunar surface scenes.  Everything feels very genuine, used, and lived-in.  Similar to the scenic design used in Star Wars – itself possibly influenced by Silent Running and most likely influencing Outland and AlienMoon is just as believable as any contemporary movie even though it’s set in the near future.  It avoids looking like a sci-fi movie and instead has a documentary feel.

Having been influenced by 70s sci-fi, the pacing could be considered a little slow by modern standards.  But this film deals with the condition of working alone on the moon and the slow unravelling of Sam Bell.  Sam Rockwell gives a very compelling performance that would be difficult for some actors to achieve.  He essentially acts alone in most scenes, with limited dialogue.  Yet it is clear what’s going on in his mind.  The audience gets to see his character in different states as the story progresses.  A couple of twists in the movie also serve to not only keep the viewer guessing, but manage to further unravel Rockwell’s character.  Sam Bell not only deals with his mistrust of Gerty, but his mistrust of himself as well.

Spacey delivers a more creepy than usual performance as the mostly expressionless robot Gerty.  Though communicating mood through screen-displayed emoticons, you never really know what motivates him and what he’s trying to hide.  Some of this comes from the Western perception that robots are out to get us.  If viewed in Japan, no doubt Gerty would be the hero of the story.

Moon is a welcome throwback to 1970s science fiction.  Dispensing with much of the flash and glitz in todays sci-fi movies, this movie gets to the heart of what made movies of that era great and what’s missing in some blockbusters of today.  

Moon opens on June 12th.

- POPed to the moon by ReevesReel -

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