Friday, July 3, 2009

Movie Review: "Moon"

This is going to be a difficult one to review.

Let me start it off simply by saying this: don't watch the trailers for "Moon." They spoil a crucial part of the film's story. Don't let anyone talk too much about the plot, as part of the pleasure of watching this science fiction drama is watching director Duncan Jones and star Sam Rockwell breathe life and intelligence into deep philosophical and scientific ideas.

And get yourself to a theater playing this film as soon as you can. "Moon" is the best science fiction film since "WALL-E" and one of the greatest grown-up works of the genre since "Dark City."

Unfortunately, I can't talk about much of what makes this film so great without spoiling the film's plot. So we'll keep the review relatively brief and then, down the road, I will most-likely come back and revisit the story and deal with the plot twists.

The film takes place in the future. A source of energy powerful enough to solve the world's energy crisis has been found on the moon. Lunar Inc. is a corporation that mines the properties and sends them to Earth. They do this by manning a moon station with one employee for a three-year period.

Sam Bell (Rockwell) is nearing the end of his 3-year contract and just in time. He misses his wife and daughter, he's beginning to show some signs of depression and is aching for some human contact. The only person he has to talk to each day, besides himself, is Gerty, the station's computer system (voiced by Kevin Spacey in an homage to HAL from "2001: A Space Odyssey.")

One day, Sam heads out to inspect some damage on one of the harvesters. There's an accident and he wakes up in the infirmary. . .

And that's all you need to know. Just know that the accident is a catalyst for a series of discoveries Sam makes that will challenge his perceptions and make him ask questions about his own sanity and ultimately will prompt the audience to ask philosophical questions about the very nature of humanity and reality.

Director Jones (who is the son of David Bowie) tells this story with wonderful skill. I'm certain the budget for this indie must have been nearly non-existent. Yet he creates a believable setting on the moon, with a space station that has the basic utilitarian design we've seen in "Alien" or "2001." It's not a sprawling complex but a small one; the main sets are the infirmary and the kitchen. But it's believable...if there was a work station on the moon, this is what it would look like.

Jones is dealing with big ideas here. When the film begins to reveal its twists, everything is plausible. Some of it elicited a chuckle from me--of course, I thought several times, a corporation would DEFINITELY do that if they had the resources. Some of it silenced me--this film is not afraid to push its ideas to the limits, asking questions not only about plausibility but about humanity and what makes a person a human. Is it memories? Experience? If our behavior can be predicted, are we nothing more than expendable machines? But even now I'm revealing too much.

Sam Rockwell has been one of the indie world's unsung heroes for several years. He first came to my attention with his small part as a red-shirt in "Galaxy Quest" (again proving that "Galaxy Quest" simply doesn't get the respect it deserves). He's delivered knock out performances in "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," "The Assassination of Jesse James..." and "Choke." Here, however, he may finally get the recognition he's been building toward for a long time. Rockwell is the only main character in this film and the majority of its runtime is spent with him talking to himself. In that time, he is able to create a portrait of a man who is funny, scared, angry, frustrated, somewhat zen and regretful. As new twists are revealed, he shows a new side to the character. Again, I feel that I must tread lightly as even a description of his scenes may tip the hand and reveal some crucial twists. Suffice to say that Rockwell has an Oscar nomination in the bag with this.

I grew up not caring much for the whole science fiction genre, believing it to be the realm of Trekkies and Star Wars geeks. As I've gotten older, I've found a love for the type of science fiction that uses the genre as a jumping point for questions about philosophy, humanity, ethics and theology. I may not care much for ray guns. But films like "Dark City," "The Matrix," "A.I." and "WALL-E" have captivated my imagination and shown me just how useful the genre is for asking deep questions.

It's a pleasure to add "Moon" right alongside those great movies. This is one of the year's great films.

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30s, engaged and living in Motown. Wrestling with life, love, faith, art, film, culture and everything in between.