Monday, July 20, 2009

Review: Moon

A lot of different stories fall under the category of science fiction.  Space opera, time travel, cyberpunk, etc.  And though the 2000's have given us a number of great films in each of those categories, few if any have reached the heights of Star Wars, Back to the Future, or Blade Runner.  Enter Duncan Jones' film Moon.  I'm not saying it's as great as any of those films, but what it is is one of the purest science fiction films of the decade.  It's not as grandiose as the Star Wars prequels or as ambitious as, say, Danny Boyle's Sunshine, but in it's own way manages to fascinate and entertain in equal measures.  It gets so many of the minor details right that it really sucks you into the story.

Moon's story is a simple one.  Astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) works on the Sarang mining base on the far side of the moon, where he's been working alone for the past three years.  His only companion is the base's robotic system, named GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), and after three years Sam is starting to suffer the emotional stress of isolation.  During the final two weeks of his contracted stay, Sam discovers the base's dark secret (it's always a dark secret, isn't it?), and begins frantically searching for a way home.

I don't want to say anymore, because even though the film's twist comes 30 minutes in, the story is every bit as fascinating for where it doesn't go as where it does.  Certain parts of Moon are, indeed, predictable, but the film is deceptive in that it telegraphs just enough so the viewer thinks they have it figured out.  At other times, the film suggests certain forboding possibilities and then leaves it up to the viewer whether or not such things are the case.  The film offers several possibilities as to how Sam might end up dead, and then shows remarkable restraint in not overplaying its hand.

So yes, this is indeed a wonderful little piece of science fiction, but the real reason to seek out Moon is for Sam Rockwell's excellent performance.  He's more or less a one-man show here, and he's able to run the gamut of emotions, from emotional distress to violent rage to giddy aloofness, all in a matter of minutes.  Rockwell never oversells it or underplays it, but manages to hit that emotional sweet spot and make the viewer feel for this poor guy.

All the best science fiction films are about more than what's presented on the surface.  In just over 90 minutes, Moon manages to tackle space exploration, alternative energy, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, space madness and, yes, dark corporate secrets.  That it meshes all of these into one brief, cohesive film is an impressive feat unto itself.  The finale is a bit on the underwhelming side, but there's still enough here to satisfy any sci-fi fan.  If you need a good, hard science fiction film to take the edge off junk like Transformers 2 or Star Trek, you owe it to yourself to check out Moon.

4.5 stars ( big grinbig grinbig grinbig grin1/2 ) out of 5.

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