Weekend Review: Moon

Duncan Jones (aka Zowie Bowie) has crafted a brilliant, low-key SF film that puts character and questions over special effects and has earned itself several awards, and a nomination for this year’s Hugo.

Title: Moon

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by Duncan Jones
Written by Duncan Jones and Nathan Parker

Cast

Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell
Kevin Spacey as GERTY
Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb

Premise:

In a future not far away, a lone man runs an operation on the dark side of the moon, extracting and sending a valuable fuel that has reduced pollution and brought efficient power to the world. As his three-year term nears its end, he begins to make some disturbing discoveries. Is he going mad? Or is something else at work?

High Points:

1. In the decade before Star Wars, media SF tended to be like this: bleak, thoughtful mind-frakery filled with ideas and carried by compelling, flawed characters. Jones and company have made that kind of film, minus the cheesy effects and histrionic acting. Although the plot features a twist, the film would hold up to multiple viewings.

Sam’s situation reflects on several human dilemmas, and several realities of our culture (i.e. We face challenges and deceptions in knowing ourselves and our position; we may never truly know either. Our culture creates affluence by exploiting people who may not know a better life can exist. Insert your own here)

2. Instead of something like “It’s peeeeeeeeeeeeeeeople!” or “God damn them all to hell!,” this film, comparatively low on laughs, actually has a funny final line, delivered just before the credits roll.

3. Despite the similarity between the HAL 9000 and the GERTY 3000, this computer’s programming takes in it a rather different direction.

Low Points:

1. The pacing, in places, runs a tad too slow.

2. I liked the twist that makes the film possible. I question, however, the plausibility of the premise, given that we’re in a hard-SF world. Future earth can travel to the moon easily enough; would this method of staffing their stations really be more economical, especially given the risks?

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6 Aspects of both story and visuals recall 2001: A Space Odyssey. Some of this is inevitable, given the nature of the story and the visionary genius of Kubrick. We have, after all, an astronaut in isolation, his life controlled by a computer he can no longer trust. We also have the kind of near-future Kubrick envisioned, with tech derived from NASA designs. Some aspects would just naturally recall that landmark film, though Jones must have been aware of the similarities, and he includes a few direct, but unobtrusive, tributes. Other viewers may find themselves thinking of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner or, at least, the work that inspired it, and Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Sharer or, at least, the lore on which it draws. Nevertheless, the results stand as a strong SF story, created for the screen.

Effects: 6/6 The effects never steal the film, but they’re serviceable and realistic. The space shots have that breathtaking look of the real thing. Readers here may be interested to know they were done on a comparatively small budget, and that Jones employed models and physical effects, not CGI, where possible.

Story: 5/6 We have a compelling story that raises questions about the human condition and the contemporary world. Despite the sense of closure, some other, good questions linger.

Acting: 6/6 Sam Bell gives an extraordinary, and often subtle, performance as the only human who gets much screen time. Kevin Spacey as GERTY, a HAL-like computer, represents an impressive bit of voice-acting.

Production: 6/6. The film features strong production. Despite the retro-futurism of the sets and devices, they have a darker, lived-in look, and lack the obvious 60s flourishes of Space Odyssey and the old the Space Age designs that inspired them. Moon comes closer to the near-future we might now imagine, assuming space travel will have a part to play.

Emotional Response: 5/6 Brian Rollins says, “It’s really good. Understated Sci-Fi is so rare these days.”

Overall: 6/6 Jones hopes to do a trilogy of similar hard SF films, set in a shared universe but not necessarily connected directly.

In total, Moon receives 38/42.

8 replies on “Weekend Review: Moon”

  1. Damien says:

    My low point would have been that the the twist was given away so early on, I thought that they could have delayed the reveal a little longer.

    • x00 says:

      I disagree with that. Revealing the twist early turns the film from being about the twist (like the Sixth Sense) and turns it into something better. For me it’s not a twist and actually is just a plot point of the film. It makes the film deeper and more interesting. And yes, it allows for repeated viewings of the film.

      I do like the special effects of this film. It’s nice to see someone who uses models mostly and CGI minimally. It adds to the film and makes the effects feel far more real.

      • JD DeLuzio says:

        Physical effects, done well, still look better than most CGI– at least for the kind of visuals we have here.

        • Erf says:

          Agreed. Kind of amazing, to me, since CGI can have as fine detail as you want while for a model there’s a limit to how much detail you can put into a tiny miniature. (That’s still a lot of detail, but CGI gets more.) Must be something about how the light interacts with surfaces.

          • Also, adding details to models is a one time process; the time required to film a physical model does not depend on the amount of detail the model has. Adding details to CGI models means adding to the rendering time of every single frame, so the budget escalates more rapidly. Low detail CGI is cheaper than high detail models, which is why that approach is so much more common these days.

  2. octa says:

    I went into the movie knowing what the twist was but it didn’t take away from the reveal at all. I’m also glad they did it early to allow us to focus on the real story of this character and the injustice done to him.

    The movie hit all the right tones, though I wish we could have seen a bit more of the fallout at the end.

    Unfortunately with my friends the recommendation has been a hit and miss. Some got it, others thought it was way too slow.

    • Megaweapon says:

      Has to be slow or people won’t understand it.

      Just look at the average forum post about Inception — a movie which I found relatively easy to follow; Sure it keeps you on your toes, but it’s no ExistenZ.

  3. Chad Cloman says:

    I didn’t really like this movie, because 1) the second twist never came (I thought he was just being delusional about the cloning), 2) I really can’t see how having clones would be less expensive than hiring real people, and 3) it was too slow.

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