A blog about movies and filmmaking.

Taking the moon, places it’s never been before

In sci-fi on July 17, 2009 at 2:52 am

Over this past decade we have seen a number of smaller, if not completely independent, science fiction movies appear. After a millennia, okay only around a hundred years, of movies, sci-fi was capped off with probably one of the most well-accepted, regarded (and then slightly squandered) movies of the genre, THE MATRIX. So, after that where were we to go?

Well, 2000 brought us PITCH BLACK, a sci-fi movie where a group of survivors land on a planet with two suns. Only both suns continuously go into eclipse, releasing it’s dark dwelling indiginous species. On the flip side of that, was the more ambitious – and completely awful – release of the adaptation of L. Ron Hubbard’s BATTLEFIELD EARTH. Then throughout the early part of the decade we got a number of hits (AI: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, DONNIE DARKO) and misses (IMPOSTOR, SOLARIS – even though, I actually like it)

In 2004, we get the lo-fi time travel movie PRIMER. About two friends who were running a small engineering/computer parts company from their garage when they discover a frequency, or certain amount of electricity, that allows them to travel through time. It’s very technical, and while it’s dense and hard to follow, it works because it seems so real and plausible. The movie was made for an estimated $7,000. That wouldn’t have even covered the catering budget, probably, on that years larger sci-fi hit I, ROBOT.

Then in 2007, we get a Spanish language time-travel movie (apparently, time-travel is cheap) called TIME CRIMES. It’s about a man who spies a woman taking her clothes off in the woods. Being a fairly normal man, he ventures closer trying to get a better look. Getting closer, he is then attacked by a man in bandages. From there the plot, while easy to follow, circles around and in on itself as we see the events played out from many angles. This movie, with a budget of around $2.6 million, is still fairly cheap and when compared to that same year’s biggest Sci-fi movie (TRANSFORMERS), that budget is nothing.

Amazingly, this year also features a TRANSFORMERS movie, and when compared to the movie I’m about to talk about – with a budget of only $5 million – you have to wonder why they need to spend the hundreds of millions making giant robot testicles; when there’s movies as good as MOON to be seen.

Duncan Jones’ movie, MOON, starring Sam Rockwell, has been one of the major movies I’ve been waiting to see this summer. It’s a small movie, essentially taking place on one set – located on the moon – and featuring some very strong performances…all from one man.

The movie is about Sam Bell (Rockwell), a man who has been contracted to work on the moon for 3 years, to facilitate in the automated mining of Helium-3, the new source of energy humans are using. The only person/thing, he has to keep him company is a friendly, robot named GERTY, and voiced by Kevin Spacey. One day when he’s going out to retrieve a canister that is full of the new element, he crashes his rover. Next thing we know, he’s laying in the infirmary in the space station, being attended to by GERTY. The only problem is, he eventually makes his way out to that same mining vessel, and sees his crashed rover – and inside, is a man.

Since this “twist” is conveyed in the trailer, and takes place in the first half of the movie, I don’t feel too bad in revealing that Rockwell is playing clones in this movie. The amazing thing is, that even though he’s playing the same character; they’re almost nothing alike. The Sam who awoke in the infirmary is moody and energetic; the one that crashed is tired and mostly calm. (Benefits, or symptom of three years of solitude) They interact, at first not really getting along – and having a bit of an issue accepting that they’re actually the same person. As the movie goes on, we get to see, perhaps why the contract is setup for as long as it is – seemingly to do with the longevity of clones. There is also a sort of clock running, as there is a rescue ship coming that is supposed to be coming to fix the mining tool that was broken after the crash – but, really it’s to dispose of the “old”  Sam.

The movie is very well put together, and looks like it’s made with quite a bit more than $5 million. The scenes of the rovers driving on the moon’s surface – and the way that he has to drive onto the mobile mining equipment, is very cool. The movie wears it’s influences on it’s sleeve – and unless you’ve not read any other review, that’s listed them; when you see the movie, you’ll know what comes from where. GERTY, the robot voiced by Spacey is set up to be kind of creepy – with the emotive smiley faces, not always synching up to what the subject at hand is. But, in the end, he’s very much the opposite of the other famous, assistant robot, HAL9000.

As I mentioned Rockwell does amazing work here. Spacey also is very good as the lethargically speaking robot, although there are a few moments where he seems to have some attitude in his voice, where it didn’t really mesh. The only other criticism I really have for the movie, is that the counting clock (til the “rescue” ship arrives) seems to strangely keep track of time – or else the Sam’s move really, really quick. Like that fact that one of them was meant to have searched the entire station in like an hour – when he’s trying like every nook and cranny. Or when they’re out on the surface of the moon, trying to find a certain something (see, no spoilers!!)…I imagine, looking for something that you don’t know where it is, would take longer than what the clock says it does.

But, really when those are the nitpicks, that kind of says something about the rest of the movie, I think. The only other thing to mention, is the fantastic score by Clint Mansell (the regular composer for the movies of Darren Aronofsky – and whose score for THE FOUNTAIN is probably one of my favorites.). Jones does a great job on this movie and I wish it had gotten a wider release. Check it out, it’s much more rewarding than some of the other Summer movie stuff that’s out there now.

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