Thursday, July 9, 2009

"Moon" Review

Helium-3 provides something like seventy percent of the Earth's energy, and Lunar Industries has a corner on the market. Their profit margins must be huge too, since overseeing the mining operation on the moon's surface is apparently a one man job. That man is Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), who's coming into the home stretch of a three-year haul when he starts to feel physically and mentally unwell. His condition is only compounded when he discovers the body of a man bearing him more than considerable resemblance outside the station.

"Moon" is an earnest, almost postmodern science fiction film with good intentions and some great ideas. Director Duncan Jones' story is thoughtful but not dense, and though he occasionally stumbles in translating his ideas to the screen, he's crafted a compelling anti-blockbuster worth the price of admission.

The world of "Moon" is largely homage, lovingly cobbled together from shards of sci-fi greats. GERTY, Bell's robot assistant (voiced by Kevin Spacey in an uncommonly quiet performance), is HAL 9000 by way of emoticons. Bell's hallucinations recall Tarkovsky's "Solaris," and the sets fall somewhere between "Star Wars" and Ridley Scott's "Alien." Everything has an appropriate matte sheen to it that pleasingly disregards the recent SFX trend to over-shine. Though there are a few effects shots in the film, including one that almost perfectly recreates Dave's psychedelic voyage at the end of Kubrick's "Space Odyssey," the exterior moon sequences were shot using models, and the film's aesthetic feels all the more consistent for it.

The greatest flaw of "Moon" is not necessarily its early plot twist, but rather the way it knowingly strings the audience along in another direction beforehand. The film travels the comfortable path cut by so many established science fiction films that when it swerves off-road, the viewer is uncomfortably jarred. Jones is a little dishonest in depicting Sam's plight, and so the moment of revelation is met with distrust instead of the desired, "Ah ha!" It's only a brief detour, however, and once the cards are on the table and the plot continues to unfold, all is more or less forgiven.

That's really the worst of it, suffice it to say "Moon" is never particularly challenging. It might be because the film deals in so many degrees of familiarity, or because the Bells' scenario, when revealed, plays out relatively without incident. It's a subtle shade of good, though doesn't take us where truly great science fiction does: where no man has gone before. Jones has a lot going for him, and Rockwell easily carries the film, playing his part(s?) expertly. The cinematography is fluid and unobtrusive, and yet "Moon" is somehow less than excellent.

"Moon" sounds incredible on the page, and occasionally is on screen, but mostly settles for offbeat and interesting, which is still a welcome alternative to pseudo sci-fi garbage like "Terminator: Salvation" or "Transformers 2." It's an interesting companion piece to "Star Trek," which was equally successful on the other end of the action spectrum, if a bit riskier in concept for a mainstream popcorn movie. Jones' film is an enjoyable but ultimately safe take on the genre that pays off to an extent, but will leave those hoping for mind-expanding science fiction revelry wanting. Help us, "District 9," you're our only hope.


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