Abbas Ali 03/02/2010
There's nothing like a bit of old-fashioned futurism. Back in the 70s and early 80s, cinema produced a series of science fiction movies that not only excited the eyes and ears of the public, but captured their imagination, dealing with powerful, challenging issues raised by the anticipated shock of man's mastery of the physical and biological universe, environmental disaster, and the rapid advancement of technology. Whether it was Alien, Kubrick's 2001 or Ridley Scott's poetic visual masterpiece Blade Runner, moviemakers were capturing a golden (space) age of cinema. Sadly it wasn't to last.
Roll on today, to the execrable crashes and bangs of Michael Bay's Transformers, and people, or at least movie executives that call the shots, prefer pure spectacle to being challenged to ponder the big questions of mans' place in the big scheme of things. James Cameron's Avatar being the billion-dollar exception that proves the rule, of course.
Child of the 70s Duncan Jones (and son of the Man Who Fell to Earth and original space cadet, David Bowie) has created what in many ways is a love letter to that lost age of sci-fi. The action sees Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell, pictured), an employee of Lunar Industries alone working a 3 year contract on the far side of the moon, extracting a rare, precious mineral required for clean energy back on earth. His only company is the a robot voiced by Kevin Spacey, whos reassuring voice nannys Sam like Red Dwarf's Kryten, while at the same time appearing to manipulate him, like 2001's Hal 9000. What is he hiding?
The story begins with Sam coming to the end of his time on the moon. He is like a spacebound Robinson Crusoe, having forged a life for himself building matchstick models to entertain himself and occupy his mind, when he begins experiencing a series of visions, which raise his suspicion, causing him to investigate matters, and, well, I can't share much more without giving the story away, but suffice to say, the situation, and indeed, he himself, is not who he thinks he is.
A recurring theme of movies this type is the corrosive effect corporate greed can have, rejecting the sanctity of life for the cold comfort of the financial bottom line, and in this sense, Moon is very much reminiscent of flicks like Blade Runner, and Alien : large economic forces are at work, abusing technology at the expense of social norms, forcing people to act in ways that are contrary to their human instinct, and regardless of the cost of human life. In Blade Runner, Deckard is made to "retire" replicants despite emerging understanding that they are capable of something approaching humanity, in Aliens - corporations want to capture and use the aliens for biological warefare, as a product to be researched, harnessed, and sold, irrespective of the expense of human lives lost in the process. Here, minerals from the moon must be mined at minimum cost to the business, even if it means repeatedly (*****PLOT SPOILER HERE***) cloning the one individual trained and capable to do the job.
There's little in the way of overt "action", but Moon still manages to be completely engaging for its' entirety. The on screen interest lies not in explosions and effects, but in an incredible performance by Sam Rockwell, which must surely be worth of an Oscar nomination. He has hitherto ploughed a furrow in indie flicks (he pops up in Blow and Frost/Nixon), and the odd big budget movie (remember Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?), but largely as an unremarkable, but excellent character actor in secondary roles. Here, he is the movie, and what he achieves is incredible. (***MORE PLOT SPOILING***) Through his exploration of the various iterations of the character of Sam Bell, he explores brilliantly the nature of the human experience, provoking existential questions. What makes us who we are? Is it our memories? Our emotions? Our relationships with other people? Or our experiences?
In conclusion then, Moon is a truly wonderful movie, and though I suspect the Oscar interest this season will go the way of movies like The Hurt Locker, Up, and Up In The Air, for me this is by far more superior to any of the obvious candidates.