Monday, June 22, 2009

Moon (2009, dir. Duncan Jones)

"Wait, what movie did you see," my wife asked me. "Moon," I answered. "Oh right. That looked like the bastard child of Solaris and 2001," she replied. If that had been the case, I might have enjoyed myself. A metaphysical love story sprinkled with cognitive dissonance could have been fairly interesting, if derivative. Unfortunately, in a conscious attempt to avoid any direct comparisons with either of those masterpieces, Moon falls flat. Like a magician who shows us the card up his sleeve, writer/director Duncan Jones reveals Moon's twist early in the second act, trading mystery and suspense for relatively prosaic illumination and little narrative development.

It's the near future, and Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, the sole astronaut manning a helium-3 mining station on the far side of the moon. Lunar Industries Inc. is the only provider of helium-3, and a commercial by the company at the beginning of the film informs us that the non-radioactive element has saved the Earth from its energy crisis, providing clean energy to people all over the world. Sam is nearing the end of a three year contract, and his time alone there has visibly taken its toll on his mental and physical well being. A malfunctioning com-sat has kept him from having real-time communications with his wife and child for his entire duration, forcing them to send taped messages back and forth to each other. His only companion has been GERTY, the station's artificially intelligent computer (voiced by Kevin Spacey), manifested not as an omnipresent red eye, but as a series of emoticons, recognizable by anyone who has ever instant messaged. Gee, I wonder why Sam is going a little crazy?

At this point the film is still promising. You'll be asking yourself several questions, like why the company would place one single human in charge of a mining station providing the Earth's sole energy resource, or why the company couldn't repair a single com-sat in the entire three years of Sam's contract. Unfortunately, Sam soon discovers that he's not alone, and it's not long before the helpful computer tells him the truth about the station. Which will leave you about an hour and half to wonder exactly what else this movie has to offer.

In a film with essentially only one actor, it's no surprise that the success of the film depends largely on that actor's performance. And although Sam Rockwell is perfectly up to the task of playing a crazed but likable astronaut, Moon also calls on him to portray an intensity and animosity that he just isn't capable of. Though even had he been able to pull off that bipolar emotionality, I'm not convinced that it would have saved the film from its serious narrative failings.

Final Thought: A good magician never reveals his secrets, but a good film knows when to trade the mystery for forward development. Moon is in desperate need of some magic.

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