27 July 2009

moon

2001, with Sam Rockwell in the Dave Bowman role, and Kevin Spacey playing HAL. That's the vague idea I had of Moon going into it, and I was sold based solely on that terribly wrong impression. Despite the facts that Spacey delivers all of his lines in his best HAL impersonation, the film ends with lights flashing across Rockwell's helmet, and he finds himself at the mercy of the technology of which he's supposed to be the master, Duncan Jones' (David Bowie's son, interestingly enough) smaller, more personal (and, frankly, infinitely more comprehensible) film sets itself far apart from 2001 that comparisons go out the window pretty quickly. Though, there were certainly parts that reminded me of Stephen Soderbergh's adaptation of Solaris, but again, not for long.

A lot of movies these days – far too many – lay everything out early on. By this, I mean that if a movie's structured A-B-C, C is revealed very quickly and the only question left to the audience is, “How is the movie going to get there?” Usually, that's not particularly interesting. That's not to say that such a story can't be told in an compelling way, it's just that I'm very rarely sitting on the edge of my seat wondering what in the hell is going to happen next, but Moon kept my head tilted through much of its runtime. Once I got into the film's groove, I could start to see what the big developments were going to be, but that didn't happen for a while.

Moon is, to be frank, quiet. It makes a good deal of sense, given that Rockwell's Sam Bell is the lone human (though you could argue that point pretty successfully) aboard a moon base that captures Helium-3 to send back to Earth to power fusion generators that've, more or less, solved the fossil fuel problem. There's a fantastic sequence where he's driving his moon rover out to one of the mobile harvesting stations, this massive machine that looks like a cross between a combine and a Jawa sandcrawler. It's kicking up all manner of moon rock as it trudges across the satellite's surface and, as Rockwell drives ever closer, he's caught in its wake, a shower of debris, a rain of rock. It's beautiful and understated, without a musical swell or camera flourish to call attention to it, a great moment of imagery that reminded me of the fireworks scene in Brokeback Mountain, another gorgeous cinematic moment made all the better because it didn't feel the need to announce itself. And, just like that part of Brokeback, something terrible was lurking underneath the surface. The rover crashes into the harvester, knocking him unconscious as rock pours over the small windows.

As a bleeding-heart, liberal, egghead communist, I have to admit that it was tough for me to suspect a company built on the socially progressive base of alternative energy to be, well, evil, but I should've, and right from the start. Between Cyberdine, and Weyland-Yutani, and OCP, there's a long history of corporate wrong-doing in science fiction. But... fusion power! From the moon! What's more awesome than that? How could they be evil? Well, the answer was staring me right in the face from the first moment Rockwell stepped onscreen, and believe me, it's a good one.

Speaking of Sam Rockwell, I don't really know if there are many actors that I genuinely like and enjoy as much as him. I like that he makes these choices of roles that keep him a step or two removed from mainstream acceptance and recognition; I hate it when a band (Isis), or a concept (“universal” health coverage), or a game (Dead Space) gets stolen from me and co-opted by people who don't understand or fully appreciate it as much as I do, and, at least for a little while longer, it doesn't look like Guy Fleegman is going to be taken from me and perverted into something that makes him less than he is. When I saw the G-Force trailer, I remarked that somebody needs to be put in charge of Will Arnett's career (beyond an agent... somebody who has the best interests of his talent in mind, not just his bank account). Rockwell doesn't need that person, at least not yet. He's able to run pretty much the full gamut in Moon, slipping in and out of fully-justifiable paranoia, and he doesn't disappoint. The video messages he sends back and forth with his wife and daughter back on Earth (Bell signed a three-year contract that's about up when the movie opens) are his only substantive contact with the outside world, and he clearly knows it, wrenching every little bit of human connection out of their video-phone tag that he can. In this way, I suppose the film could also be compared to Castaway, except that Moon remains compelling for its entire runtime, and not just a few minutes here and there.

Spacey, of course, is fantastic, even if he's never actually on camera. He's so good at running cool that his voice is the absolute and perfect counterpoint to Rockwell's constantly-bubbling emotions. You want to suspect GERTY from the get-go, but the AI is so convincing when it tells Sam that it's just here to help him.

For an (apparently) $4 million movie, the production value is fantastic. The CG sequences stay within the tone of the movie, always understated, never showy. The base is logical, efficient with its use of space, and GERTY, rather than a series of camera eyes installed throughout, is a physical mechanism that travels on rails set in the ceiling. A small display switches between variations on happy, sad, worried, uncomfortable, and even expressionless faces, so as to cue Sam in on the tone his computerized companion wishes to take with him.

I've tried to avoid spoiling what happens in the film precisely because I enjoy it so very much. I don't want to ruin it for anyone reading that might want to go and see it. That's something you should do, go and see it. As quickly as possible.

1 comment:

JTG said...

You've hit the nail on the head with this one, my good sir. I absolutely loved the simplicity of this movie, and everything about it was pitch-perfect. I was happy to hear that they used a lot of models for the scenery on the moon, because all that CGI stuff just doesn't feel real sometimes. This moon base felt real, like it could actually be up there on the moon.

Sam Rockwell was outstanding as himself (and then some), and I think he could wind up deserving a Best Actor nomination when all is said and done.

This might be a movie I'll have to do see again, just because it was so, so good.