Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Movie Review "Moon" by David Pretty

WANTED: more genuine sci-fi movies like Moon and less pointless, shitty remakes of CGI-choked action flicks like Total Recall.

In the not-too-distant-future, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) serves as the lone human overseer at the Lunar Industries Moon base Sarang where he monitors the automated harvesting of helium-3. Given the fact that his only companion is an administrative robot named GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) and communications from Earth are spotty at best, Sam can't wait for the end of his three year contract so he can go home to his beautiful wife Tess (Dominique McElligott) and his three-year-old daughter Eve.

But just weeks prior to his departure, Sam begins to experience fleeting hallucinations centered around a teenaged girl. During a recovery mission, Sam experiences a particularly vivid episode and wrecks his moon rover. He's rendered unconscious during the accident and wakes up in the base infirmary, apparently rescued via mysterious circumstances by GERTY.

As Sam fights to return to active duty, things take a decidedly mind-bending turn. GERTY refuses to let him leave the base and Sam is forced to use subterfuge in order to revisit the scene of his accident. when he finally gets back out there he discovers to his horror, that he never left the crash site after all.

Moon is everything that good sci-fi should be. It posits an intriguing and very believable scenario about our immediate future. Even better, the script tangles with the sort of hefty issues that the human race will eventually be forced to contend with at some point in time. To divulge any more about the plot will be criminal; just suffice to say that Moon asks a lot of tough questions about work/life balance, scientific and corporate ethics and the transient definition of self-perception.   

The film's production design looks vintage but feels progressive. The interior sets are practical, aesthetically neutral and just sterile enough to convey feelings of isolation. Having said that, everything feels used, grungy and lived-in, evoking shades of such sci-fi classics as Outland. The costumes and space suits are also flawlessly authentic, clearly paying homage to the classic design work of Ron Cobb and John Mollo. Sci-fi has a sordid and incestuous history of visual thievery, so I was quite surprised when the ceiling-mounted A.I unit GERTY proved to be a wildly original design.   

All of the exterior shots are equally glorious. Bill Pearson, who supervised the model work on Alien, gives a the moon rovers and harvester vehicles a highly realistic look. The Sarang Moon base itself was realized as a massive miniatures set which could be filmed from any angle. I still maintain that these hyper-detailed miniatures look ten times more realistic then any digital illusion ever could. Even though the effects are completely convincing, there's also oddly quaint and retro quality about it, placing the film in such rarefied company as Space: 1999 and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Director Duncan Jones documents the deliberately-paced script with expert timing while cinematographer Gary Shaw expertly does justice to the production's visual panoply. The sparse soundtrack provided by Clint Mansell is also note-perfect, augmenting the subconscious aural mood of the film without being invasive. All of these elements provide a unique synergy that serves to heighten the film's hefty emotional impact.  

The film is also anchored by some truly memorable performances. Kevin Spacey does a fantastic job voicing GERTIE. By evoking his best HAL impersonation, we're kept guessing right up to the very end as to where the robot's loyalties lie. Dominique McElligott only has a few fleeting scenes, but she makes enough of a  lasting impression to justify Sam's obsession with getting home. Young Robin Chalk also doesn't get a lot to do but her one pivotal video conference with Sam is sure to hit even the most jaded viewer directly in the feels.  

Above all, the movie becomes something truly transcendent thanks to a brave and bold showing by Sam Rockwell. The Academy's snobby hate-on for genre films really pisses me off because Rockwell should have been nominated for an Oscar, especially when you consider the myriad of physical and mental states that he had to shepherd Sam through. Arguably he could have been slightly more gregarious and/or boisterous during the film's climax, but his approach is still well within the wheelhouse of the film's reserved tone.

I often marvel at metamorphic actors vanish effortlessly into a different roles like a chameleon. Here, Rockwell's does one better, embodying different incarnations of Sam often within the same scene! In fact he's so good that if I didn't know any better I'd say that the producers pulled a fast one and subbed in an occasional look-a-like. Rockwell does everything in his power to make Bell's degeneration as painful and harrowing as possible. So much so that I often found myself getting genuinely pissed off at the fictional shadowy forces that stamped him with such a horrible expiry date.

Thought-provoking, socially-conscious imaginative fiction has really become something of a theatrical white elephant lately so when films like Moon surface, we really need to champion it. I hereby call upon all true sci-fi nerds within the range of my signal to seek out this tremendous little film and sing its praises from every digital rooftop at your disposal.

Who knows, one day maybe we'll see a new Golden Age of sci-fi.    

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