Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Film Review of Moon

I could talk for hours about this film. As soon as I walked out of the cinema (The Showrom to be exact) I instantly placed it alongside my joint best films of the year so far: Frost/Nixon, Let The Right One In and Coraline, making my top 4 even more eclectic.

Moon is sci-fi in the style of films like Sunshine, although even that is misleading since Sunshine was crammed with CGI visuals of blazing light and was about saving mankind, whereas Moon is the story of 1 man in a grubby base on the desolate, dusty, monochrome surface of our moon.

The world of Moon is very quickly laid out at the start of the film in a corporate promo video kind of way, the headline being: energy crisis on Earth solved by collecting H3 on the far side of the moon and shipping it back to Earth to be used in fusion reactors. The scene is then promptly set as we meet our two principal characters; Sam Bell and Gerty.

The process of harvesting H3 is mostly automated but Sam is charged with making sure that everything runs smoothly and dealing with the minor problems that will always arise in such a harsh environment. His contract runs for a full 3 years and his only company is Gerty; the base’s computer, which is actually capable of handling all of the on-base maintenance without Sam’s assistance.

The technology Sam is charged with maintaining is wonderful; huge, tracked combine harvesters crawl across the landscape spewing out plumes of rock behind them; his lunar rovers trundle along on 6 massive wheels looking every moment like they’re about to bounce away into space. There was an irresistible charm to these creations that brought out the grinning 8 year old in me whenever they appeared.

The set of the base was also wonderfully near-future. Everything was white but covered in dirt and grime; Sam is not the type to spend his spare hours scrubbing away to keep things clean and this is not such a far flung future that mankind is worrying about how to keep their lunar bases shiny.

Gerty is a fantastic construction; an amalgam of Kevin Spacey, Hal from 2001, the ship’s computer from WALL-E, and msn messenger. He’s essentially a white box suspended from the ceiling by a pole that travels along tracks in order to get around. He’s voiced by Kevin Spacey, has a big black electronic eye and a screen which displays emoticons whenever he interacts with Sam.

Gerty close up

The use of these changing faces; happy, sad, confused, thoughtful etc is absolutely hilarious in parts and does a great job of characterising Gerty as more than just a machine. They steer clear of the clich├ęd computer-caught-in-a-logic-problem-that-goes-nuts characterisation in favour of a more complex personality that struggles to marry morality with its programming. It’s a refreshing approach.

I’ve hardly mentioned the plot so far, the reason being it’s quite difficult to without spoiling it. Quite early on Sam has an accident whilst going to check on one of the harvesters out on the moon’s surface and is quite badly hurt. A second Sam is revealed at this point and I can’t say what the relationship between the 2 Sams is without giving the game away.

Joe, my esteemed co-author of this site saw this film before me and told me its one major fault was that it lacked tension. He has a valid point as Moon is not a film that builds and builds towards a grand revelation at the end; it gets going quite quickly and proceeds at an unceasing canter until the end – I think I glanced at my watch once whilst watching it and that was a full hour in.

The biggest revelation to be had is obviously the relationship of the two Sams to each other and this is solved a while before the end. Incidentally, Sam Rockwell’s portrayals of the Sams is really very good. There are none of the clich├ęd shots that normally accompany doppelganger scenes in sci-fi and my friend and I were briefly convinced that it had to be 2 different actors. He played the first Sam particularly well, forming a character that got into my head and has stayed there ever since.

He is by far the most complete and developed character and the most poignant scene in the film sees him finally broken emotionally. He loses something, but the realisation is such that you find out that he never had to begin with. The result gave me a feeling of the purest melancholy loneliness, heightened by the fact that physically he was as alone as you could possibly imagine, whilst the Earth moved across the sky overhead. We see a lot of Sam’s frustration in Moon but moments of deeper emotion like this are kept rare, which is fair enough since Sam’s been 3 years with very little human contact.

Sam the first

My gripes with this film are very few. I don’t think the lack of cloying tension is a bad thing because the film’s pacing doesn’t require it. The one annoyance for me was that the technology that explains the dual Sams seems quite a bit beyond the rest of the near-future style tech that permeates the rest of Moon.

The fact of the matter is that the characters carry this film through; it has little CGI and is mostly modelled, it lacks a grand battle of good vs evil, the fate of the world is not at stake, no one is taking over anything or blowing anyone up. Characterwise it has 2 men played by one actor, a talking box, and a few brief appearances by people on screens. But they’re all played so well that I found it riveting. The first Sam in particular carried me through Moon with him, and now I’m carrying it to the top of my favourites list.

I love this film and it may well end up as my film of the year. I advise you to see Moon if you have a head with a brain in it, eyes on the front of it, and ears on the side of it. In fact I recommend it even if you don’t.

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