Sometimes I am very organized in terms of calendars and scheduling. Lately, what with being on sabbatical and dealing with in-laws in town and coordinating driving to dinners and plays -- oh how awful (grin) -- I don't always keep track of things. So I was surprised to see a review of Moon in the Saturday Grand Rapids Press, since I didn't remember seeing it was in town. Well, of course it was the case it was at ONE theatre. But since I had Monday free and it wouldn't last long, I did have to go to see this SF movie on the big screen. Moon has been dribbling into limited release theatres since June...
Celebration Cinema Rivertown, #7, 4:45pm
It's hard to write a review of Moon for the simple reason that some published reviews already spill the beans of the basic plot -- I suppose there is no getting around that -- but one would like to keep some mystery for the viewers. Plus everyone wants to talk in the metaphors of previous SF movies -- 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner and Silent Running. Fine, we'll do some commenting via film references in a minute. But could we just please talk about Moon as a Science Fiction movie of its own?
NOTE: I knew that this one was going to be good when we see our main character suiting up to go back outside and his spacesuit is filthy. There are old and ragged Post-It notes everywhere and other signs of long-term habitation. This is not the antiseptic clean world of 2001, but not quite the rundown universe of the Millennium Falcon.
Lunar Industries is mining helium-3 on the far side of the Moon. Note I did not say "dark side of the Moon", which is a Pink Floyd album (grin), because both far and near sides of the Moon get both light and dark. We seem to be near the terminator, as some places have low sun and some are in shadow. Anyway, because of the large amount of helium-3, fusion energy has become practical and Life On Earth is all hunky-dory energy-wise. The setup then has to do with this mining effort all being done with a one man crew who is serving out a three-year contract.
Sam Bell is slowly going nuts due to limited communication with Earth and is a short-timer, waiting his chance to ride the railgun in suspension and go home. A rover accident with one of the big harvester machines leaves him injured. Gerty, the fixed overhead rail robot companion back at the base, warns him in the infirmary that he has had a head trauma and may be suffering from memory loss. Sam is worried why the one harvester is broken down, sneaks out to check it and finds... Sam Bell barely alive in his spacesuit in the wrecked rover underneath the broken harvester. Oops.
It is a brilliant setup. The far side of the Moon cannot have line-of-sight communications with Earth, which provides natural isolation. The far side also gets direct exposure to the solar wind, so that helps explain the rich fields of lunar soil with trapped helium-3 isotopes. The one-man crew solves the problem of conflict between members of a two- or three-man crew, while introducing the going-nuts factor.
This movie really is about energy, but not energy to feed a hungry Earth. Remember that our own Moon missions almost forty years ago exactly depended on a 6.9 million pound Saturn V rocket stack to deliver a 12-ton payload of command module, trio of astronauts and a couple hundred pounds of moon rocks and exposed film safely back to Earth. You make the trip one-way and it's much more economical. I've been watching Ice Road Truckers on the History Channel, and seeing the size and complexity of this lunar mining operation, one has to appreciate how many loads and how many workers were needed to assemble this plant. I think the ugly conspiracy runs a lot deeper than just Sam Bells.
One reason that people want to talk about earlier SF movies, is because we see realistic and semi-realistic SF in near-term space so seldom that we don't have a lot of references. The countdown clock panel is very reminiscent of Outland, the Sean Connery High Noon in space movie, which makes sense as it also takes place in a space mining operation and we worry about the so-called "rescue mission". But I haven't seen anyone talking about Rogue Moon, the 1960 novel by Algis Budrys, which is perhaps as relevant or even more so than Blade Runner. And perhaps I'll be the first reviewer to mention The Parent Trap? (double-Haley-Mills-grin)
Sam Rockwell does a fine job as Sam Bell. And Kevin Spacey is well-cast as the voice of Gerty. But which Kevin Spacey? Is this the reassuring, helpful Kevin of the Honda car commercials? Or any of the evil/criminal Kevins of The Usual Suspects or Seven or...? Because we know ALL about HAL from 2001, so when Gerty says he is just here "to help you", it sounds so damned chilling. And I've hated smiley faces ever since that yellow pimple showed up in the early damned 70s. (yellow-smiley-grin) And while I'm not sure I would purchase a soundtrack CD of this movie, the mood music was extremely well-done and evocative of the isolation and tension.
Still, there are some problems. First, doesn't anyone remember that the Moon has 1/6th the gravity of Earth? There is very little in the way the interior scenes are shot to suggest this, though to be fair, neither does 2001. A bit better are the exterior model shots of the helium-3 harvesters in action and Sam carrying things outside in his spacesuit also suggests a lower gravity. Second problem has to do with time. I don't believe how much is being done, including driving out and back several times to distant locations in the rovers, in just a matter of a few hours. Third, wouldn't you suspect that EVERYTHING is being recorded and that the company knows everything?
Of course, there is no doubt that they really are on the Moon. After all, it was filmed at Shepperton Studios in England where 2001 was shot. (grin) Wikipedia quotes the director as saying this is the first of three movies about the Moon. If Moon is any indication of the quality of the stories, then we are in good shape, I'd say.
Last word -- as the movie is about to fade out to the credits, pay close attention to the last couple of sentences spoken as we overhear some Earth talk radio. Clever. It is quite possible to miss this flick if it either never shows up in your area or if it isn't there long enough, but do try to catch it on a big screen. And stop worrying about the metaphors based on other SF films and books. Watch Moon for what it is -- and you will feel like it's the first real SF film you've seen in a long time.
Deja Vu 101/102
My viewing of Moon got definite added value, because I saw it alone in a theatre way in the far side of the Rivertown cinema. Alone that is except for this other big fat guy who sat in the same row on the other side. Uh, my clone? And in the Men's room next door afterward, it was a little creepy to sit in a stall with complete quiet except for the ventilation system sounds. Then the drive home at nearly 7pm, post rush hour, nearly empty roads through the moonscape of the I-196 construction zone... with two large dump trucks with giant tires sitting next to giant dirt piles waiting for their next shift. Alone on the far side of the Moon, was I... (grin)