Weekly Volcano Blogs: Walkie Talkie Blog

July 28, 2009 at 10:40am

Lunar lunacy

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Moon July 24, 1969: The world breathlessly watches a group of American astronauts bounce around the lunar surface like toddlers at the seashore. This historic moment will soon bring forth a new age of enlightenment in human civilization, one where science unites our species and allows us to conquer the cosmos at last.

July 2009: Said promise â€" and the hope and optimism behind it â€" remains the stuff of science fiction. Apollo 11 turns 40 this year, and that mission’s accomplishments have likewise shuffled over the hill, obscured in the collective memory of a new generation. It is into this postmodern milieu that director Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s boy) releases his second feature, plainly titled, Moon. Though set in a time of clones and robots, the film keeps one cynical eye fixed firmly on the past, as a reminder to 21st century audiences who, though jaded about the science of their times, still wonder about that giant leap for mankind.

Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell) lives alone on the dark side of the moon. Earthlings of the future uncover a convenient truth about our satellite; under its cratered face lies great reservoirs of Helium-3, a reliable alternative to fossil fuel. Bell ships canisters of the stuff off to Earth after computerized bulldozers buzzing around his base dig it up. Machines such as these have seriously undermined man’s status. One scene comes upon Bell listlessly watching Bewitched and squirming in his seat while a robot tries to trim his hair â€" the noble astronaut reduced to impatient boy. Nowhere in Moon do we better see the individual’s sacrifice to progress than in those lingering shots of Bell’s dirt-encrusted spacesuit. Even in the future, civilization can only advance through the toil of underlings serving those enlightened few in power.

Bell has no choice but to fulfill his three-year contract with an employer thousands of miles away (remember the faceless, menacing “Company” from Alien?). Moon makes homages to other sci-fi classics, most apparent in the HAL-like character Gerty. Kevin Spacey lends his voice to the role, and it is pitch-perfect casting. Even the actor’s most sincere utterances carry a whiff of sarcasm, keeping listeners ever on guard. Though the robot plays dutiful housekeeper to this cosmic castaway, one still gets the sensation of dark secrets hidden beneath Gerty’s lilting speech and fading metallic skin.

The isolation and malaise Bell experiences begin to take their toll on his sanity. Dislocated both in space as well as time, he sits through reruns of decades-old shows and spouts by rote phrases like “rock and roll” and “God Bless America.” His quaint pop culture references reveal a subconscious pullback to that golden age of space exploration, the sixties. After an hallucination causes him to have an accident, he embarks on a personal odyssey that leads him to the truth about his humanity.

I wish to keep the remainder of Moon’s plot vague on purpose, so as not to reveal the “surprise.” Unfortunately one can see this revelation coming too early. And once it does arrive, the story loses momentum. Jones does achieve several genuinely suspenseful scenes of violence and surreal gore, but I eventually tired of Bell’s repetitive meandering through his living quarters. Rockwell usually exhibits a Steve Zahn zaniness in films like The Green Mile and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, but in Moon has barely a chance to breathe his energy into an otherwise sober drama. His character hovers just over the black hole of emotional lockdown that Kubrick’s bland spacemen exhibit in 2001.

Perhaps most disappointingly, Jones neglects to explore more of the science fiction aspects of his story. To me, films of this genre that manage to rocket into the “epic-sphere” â€" Contact, The Arrival, Sunshine â€" use technology to deal head-on with humans’ place in the universe. Grand themes like these have no room in a small-budget character study. In setting its sights on a too provincial plane, Moon, like its stranded hero, fails to lift off and touch the heavens.  

LINK: Moon screens at The Grand Cinema

LINK: Films now playing in the South Sound

Filed under: Christopher Wood, Screens,
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