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Thread: MOON (Duncan Jones 2009)

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    MOON (Duncan Jones 2009)

    Duncan Jones: Moon (2009)


    SAM ROCKWELL HUNKERS DOWN AND ENJOYS THE INDIRECT LIGHTING IN MOON.
    IT'S DARK OUTSIDE.


    Review by Chris Knipp


    A sci-fi film where it's the acting that counts

    Directed by David Bowie's 38-year-old son (formerly known as Zowie), with a screenplay by Nathan Parker, Moon is a curious and thought-provoking sci-fi story about a man working for an energy company at a Helium-3 mining base on the far side of the moon who finds out now that his three-year contract is just about done he may not be going home. Sam Rockwell gets to do a virtuoso turn as alternative versions of himself (his character's name is Sam too, Sam Bell). Events are set in a traditional space station with a capacious, softly lit layout featuring the obligatory human-voiced and omnipresent computer -- mobile, not so big, a sort of clunky R2D2 -- creepily accommodating and voiced by an almost-human Kevin Spacey. It's a robot, I guess, and its name is GERTY. There are nice lunar landscapes outside where Sam sometimes rides around in a puffed-up Hummer-style Land Rover to explore or look over the machinery extracting Helium-3. Instead of the now all-too-usual and increasingly irrelevant CGI, there's more the feel of a giant mock-up in everything we see, which provides a better kind of background for what is essentially a Kafkaesque head trip. The interior isn't all modernistic chill. There's also a funky armchair reminiscent of the final sequence of 2001, and cozy junk, even a college pennant, on the wall around Sam's bunk, sort of like a frat boy's quarters. Sam Rockwell's own appearance, his skin far from perfect and his expression a bit wacko, suggests an ordinary guy, just a worker, which is what he is, not some Astronaut.

    Moon explores the paranoia we feel about a possible future increasingly dominated by evil, pervasive corporations -- not Big Brother, but Big Corp. It also gets at something hauntingly explored in the movie Jones's dad Bowie played an alien in in way back when, Nicholas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth: the terrible loneliness of being out in space away from one's own kind. Sam works on the moon all by himself, and some kind of radio blockage keeps him from being in direct electronic contact with people, including his wife. There's also another aspect of space travel where distances destroy human chronology: a distorted and confused sense of time troubles Sam when he tries to figure out what's been going on with his little family back on earth. It seems like it all happened a longer time ago than he knew. Orr did it maybe happen to somebody else?

    Such questions may arise from time to time in other space movies, but the filmmakers are usually too preoccupied with stuff like conflicts among the crew, threats from hostile invaders, or technical meltdowns to go into the full awful anomie, mega-aloneness and paranoid delusion lengthy sojourns in space are likely to induce. Moon, however, has no other crew members or invaders or technical problems. Everything seems to be operating according to plan; only it's beginning to seem Sam didn't know what the whole plan was, insofar as his future is concerned. When he's out checking on something not far from the module, the vehicle gets into some kind of accident, and when he wakes up, things start to go strangely wrong. This is where the full-on head trip begins, and we, and Sam, start trying to figure out what's going on. That's all I can tell you, because it's essential that the mystery unfold on its own.

    Moon doesn't dazzle but gives pleasure in its low-keyed conviction. It even made me think of Shane Carruth's 2004 virtually no-budget cult time-travel movie, Primer, because even with relatively elaborate sets and effects, it still focuses on ideas, rather than razzle-dazzle -- on what Sam is going through, rather than what the filmmakers were up to.

    Hence the key work is done by Rockwell. Sam Bell is exhausted and lonely after three years alone on the moon with only GERTY for company, and Rockwell must go through a series of reawakenings and breakdowns after he hallucinates and has that accident in the vehicle and then becomes increasingly confused, angry, and frantic about what's going on. I'm not sure Jones or Parker make the most of the situation they set up, but Rockwell's quick reactions and mood shifts hold our attention very well. As we know from Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Joshua, and Snow Angels, Rockwell does great mental breakdowns. This time he does rapid physical deterioration equally well. In a sense, all the most important special effects come out of the actor's bag of tricks. But that's not to forget the satisfying symplicity of the lunar landscape design sculpted by cinematographer Gary Shaw and production designer Tony Noble, or to overlook Clint Mansell's evocative musical soundscape. And when Sam confronts other versions of himself, needless to say the CGI folks were needed to pull it off within single frames.

    Low keyed and a little slow, Moon isn't for everyone and may seem tailored primarily for sci-fi buffs. But its disturbing exploration of identity goes back to a child's fundamental philosophical speculations: Why am I here? Who am I? How do I know I'm me?
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-01-2013 at 11:04 PM.

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    All The More Reason To See This Movie

    I've been looking forward to seeing this movie for the last several months, but as expected it passed by my State and I will have to settle for DVD. But Chris Knipp has only increased my desire to get a hold of this movie as I suspected I would need to. Hopefully others won't pass up the opportunity to get their hands on a copy.

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    Sorry to hear that, though this is a film that can be appreciated on DVD, except it is a shame to miss the moonscape scenes. But most of the action is claustrophobic and interior -- though sometimes beautifully lighted, as shown in this still.

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    I like your review, Chris, and I hope other "leafers" get to watch it. I can't conceive, for instance, of cinemabon NOT watching this worthy sci-fi film.

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    Of course I do not want you to lose your enthusiasm but unfortunately I was quite disappointed in the movie.

    Knowing that the movie was low budget I was expecting an interesting, thought-provoking plot and a somewhat sleazy cinematography, costumes and all that stuff that characterizes low budget productions. On the contrary, I watched a movie with a simple and uninteresting plot, but with fantastic surroundings.

    To a person who doesn't know 2001 Space Odyssey or hasn't read Stanislaw Lem or Phillip K. Dick, this all may sound pretty innovative and quite deep. One might even start asking herself question about identity and those sort of things. To me however, it was the same old stuff presented again and again, with no added value whatsoever.

    My full review (bashed by Chris :P) is here: "Moon": a Big Disappointment
    Borys 'michuk' Musielak

    Filmaster.com -- film buffs community, social movie recommendations

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    I hope some other contributors can actually see it and give their opinions. Have you seen it, Oscar?

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    I watched MOON twice because it was exhibited at the cinema where I work. I came home and read your review and I think you got it right. I am going to attempt a brief response in relation to Michuk's blog comments.

    *MOON is not in the same league as 2001, BLADE RUNNER (Dick), and SOLYARIS (Lem) but it doesn't seem wise to go to a film with such exalted expectations. It's bound to be...disappointing.

    *A major reason he didn't like MOON was the "simple and uninteresting plot". Well, it is rather simple but I cannot relate to his lack of interest in Sam's plight, in how precisely the turnover of clones is executed, and in how the clones will behave in the context of one another.

    *I was deeply moved by Sam's existential conundrum, and by the tragedy of each clone's shortened existence. I was mesmerized by the nuances in Rockwell's acting. I was taken aback by the lack of appreciation on the part of Michuk for the performative aspect of the film and the tragic connotations of the premise.

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    I concur with you on several disagreements with michuk: a mistake to expect the caliber of 2001 or Solaris or Blade Runner; the "existential conundrum" is intense and real (however simple the plot) and relates to anyone's nightmare puzzlement about identity, which even a young questioning child may have, but is more bitter and tragic; Rockwell is well cast and gives a fine performance, I also admire visual qualities, the interior lighting and the non-CGI lunar landscape.

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    Oscar,

    *MOON is not in the same league as 2001, BLADE RUNNER (Dick), and SOLYARIS (Lem) but it doesn't seem wise to go to a film with such exalted expectations. It's bound to be...disappointing.
    Yes I know. I usually don't do it. I don't read reviews before watching a film and try not to be biased. But "Moon" winning the Edinburgh Film Festival was a big event and then every critic in the U.K. seemed to be worshiping it, so I expected at least a decent film...

    *A major reason he didn't like MOON was the "simple and uninteresting plot".
    Not quite. It was ONE of the reasons. The screenplay could have been much better but I think one could have still made a cinema masterpiece with it. Great memorable sci-fi movies rarely have truly original plots. They achieve their greatness by building tension, managing to create a unique atmosphere. "Moon" failed here.

    Quoting myself:

    "In "Moon" the story is told in a very conventional, very direct way. Everything happens too quickly. We all find out the mystery too soon and there is not much room for speculation afterwards. The director shows us the whole thing asking to contemplate. I don't know about you but I felt that I'm being treated like an idiot who needs to be told everything word-for-word.
    So, to me, it just didn't manage to achieve the climax. I blame mostly Duncan Jones for it, that's why I gave a 3/10 for direction, 5/10 for screenplay and 7/10 for all technical aspects of the movie on Filmaster.

    I agree that the acting might have been good. Sam Rockwell was doing everything he could. But if a movie is badly directed, even best actor's effort comes to nothing or almost nothing. This was the case with "Moon" for me.

    But I also understand that if you got involved in the plot and the way-too-fast development of events didn't bother you, it might have been a very different experience to you which I fully respect.
    Borys 'michuk' Musielak

    Filmaster.com -- film buffs community, social movie recommendations

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    Originally posted by Michuk
    But "Moon" winning the Edinburgh Film Festival was a big event and then every critic in the U.K. seemed to be worshiping it, so I expected at least a decent film...

    We will agree on discussions of other films but not this one. I cannot agree that MOON is not "decent". Whether an Award is deserved or not needs to be considered within the context of the competition. MOON won the Best British Feature at Edinburgh. I haven't seen the 10 British features MOON competed again but, on paper, only Andrea Arnold's FISH TANK (Cannes Jury Award winner) strikes me as superior. Which was your favorite British film at the fest?




    So, to me, it just didn't manage to achieve the climax. I blame mostly Duncan Jones for it, that's why I gave a 3/10 for direction, 5/10 for screenplay and 7/10 for all technical aspects of the movie on Filmaster. I agree that the acting might have been good.

    I thought the mise-en-scene of the film was good and you cannot neatly separate direction from either "technical aspects" or performance. Rockwell's performance in particular is the type that requires intense directorial involvement because the actor is performing in a vacuum, so to speak. He doesn't have another actor in the set to "play against". So, I respectfully disagree with your evaluation of the film's direction.

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    A Sci-Fi Mystery Thriller of the Human Kind

    Moon (2009)

    Viewed 2/4/2010. Reviewed 2/5/2010.

    [Warning - This review contains implicit spoilers].

    MOON is about a single lunar mining operator who discovers after three years and near the end of this contract that he is not alone on the moon. The main premise of this movie that there would only be one human being overseeing such a crucial mining operation of the major fuel source of earth is somewhat "outlandish" to begin with but as the movie progresses, such questions transform into a mystery that resolves itself nicely by the end of the movie. The core theme of this movie which is hidden for more than half the movie is used to eventually transform this movie into a psychological sci-fi mystery thriller. This movie takes plot ideas from SOYLENT GREEN (1973), OUTLAND (1981), BLADE RUNNER (1982), and THE MATRIX (1999). It would have been fascinating if plot ideas from MULTIPLICITY (1996) couldn't have been used to lighten things up periodically during the movie to balance the overall tone of it. The movie begins to gain focus around 44 minutes becoming more a directive mystery/conspiracy genre, the energy and the pertinent questions/hypotheses are raised...as the movie elements seem to finally converge, repair and mitigate most of the earlier weak components of the movie by its end. By the hour and 10 minute mark, one of the pivotal moments of the movie occurs and it's genuinely human in nature (not any spooky, scary, alien revelation) raising several delicate emotional human ethical quandaries that are relevant in today's society or will soon be. The ending of the movie is tension filled, believable for the most part and there's even a brief scene similar to the ending portion of 2001 in a space pod. There is a definite sense of completion by the of the movie that is satisfying and rewarding that builds scene by scene until the final shot.

    One of the crucial elements of this movie is the lunar station's interactive computer, GERTY'S role and is one of the most fascinating components of this movie as voiced by Kevin Spacey. Initially, there is also the fascinating juxtaposition of HAL 2000 Computer from 2001: A SPACE ODYESSY (1968) and GERTY in this movie and the human element in both movies. The failure of GERTY to respond in several scenes suggests something off balance, and a little later there's the brief flash recording on the monitor of an old playback shot. Several puzzling questions stand out during this movie - Can GERTY detect from visual cues, possible human feelings and veracity of human verbal comments? GERTY'S statement that Sam is "full of it" seems a bit out of computer personality character. Then there's the mysterious GERTY communication with central and a more direct parallel with 2001 and HAL 2000 that lends to the building ominous tone of the movie that will be explained later in the movie.

    Some very nice movie elements:

    Opening sequence is a nice introduction/voice-over narrative in the form of a corporate marketing advertisement.

    The lunar station set has striking resemblance to the sharp, brilliant white 2001: A Space Odyssey and ALIEN (1979) set design images. There's a nice brief rocket ejection shot scene that's startlingly different. There is even a parallel resemblance between televised communications between family members and those in outer space in both 2001 and MOON, particularly early in both movies (the present time segments) and even references to birthdays in both movies.

    Initially the moonscape looked overly artificial and model-like but as the movie progressed, the moon scenes began to capture a richness and vibrancy all to themselves.

    Some great sci fi details are used in this movie. Oddly enough there is a weak resemblance to THE JETSONS (1962 television cartoon series), particularly with the hair grooming scene. There's the use of the "clapper" to turn off an old television show. The food processing seems actually quite familiar, refreshingly realistic, though also suggestive of 2001. The dirty stains around SAM's bed is a nice touch for the set design. During the climactic scenes, there's a belated but nice but authentic looking lunar moon hop and walk.

    Movie problems:

    Then there's a perceptive "hallucination" early on in the movie in the same weird fashion reminiscent of SOLARIS (2002) though this plot line isn't followed through in this movie.

    Sam says in an early scene that he's going to out right after he finishes he's coffee but he's already putting on his helmet and preparing to go outside, a odd statement.

    Then there's the unexpected and sudden space rover accident that seems a bit hard to accept and then the sudden change to the infirmary unit without explanation...how long can the unbelievable be sustained? The lack of Sam's curiosity about his being rescued is dismaying and distracting, somewhat unnatural.

    Sam's resistance to Central orders to stay inside is somewhat suspect as a script device, particularly in light of the lack of sufficient character development to establish his attitude and behavior. Unlike 2001, the behavior of the crew was predictable and explainable in terms of human experience. There is no real set up or connection with the audience as to Sam's behavior except feeling rebellious to being treated like a "child." Doe Sam have space fever?

    The interaction between GERTY and Sam about going outside doesn't seem acceptable in terms of how a computer, even with programmed personality, would react...the digital logic is fixed and human negotiation isn't part of the authentic playbook for this movie as the movie was set-up. Also hasn't GERTY the ability to microscopically exam and realize, distinguish between micro-meteorite holes and a human tooled break? No HAL 2000 reading lips here. How can Sam get to proceed with a space rover without GERTY's intervention and override? There isn't any GERTY communication protests nor attempts to stop the rover by remote.

    Examination of moon tracks that can be undisturbed for millions of years isn't even focused on during the initial trip back to the mining hauler. And later in the movie, again the rover tire tracks that leave suspicious evidence of something going on.

    Subsequent scenes with Sam seem unrealistic after his rescue and then the next message from his wife also seems more exploitative and convenient for effect instead of what would typically actually occur - such messages being likely monitored by central and such thoughts and feelings would likely occur much later when Sam is on earth. The evolution of Sam's wife's messages also seem oddly out of phase with the nature of this movie and would more likely have been more effective if the nature and tone of the all the messages from his wife had been more balanced and hopeful in nature until the end.

    There's an illogical, weird conversion between Sam and GERTY. There's also Sam's normal working out (exercising) weirdness.

    There's a messed up personal space room that is never explained and shown how it got that way. The scene becomes a hodgepodge of plot points that don't add up or connect.

    The issue of cloning, memories, and personalities is tested in the various scenes and it's hard to believe in the disparity...though there are some similar dialogues that take place particularly with GERTY in the infirmary. Divergent thinking processes, feelings, reactions...in that three years would still likely be modest. It would have been helped immensely if some of this had played out with the wife's messages even more as a possible explanation of clone differences. A missed opportunity here. The table tennis scenes would have been so much more effective if ping pong had been used at the beginning of the movie, another overlooked opportunity). The personality difference are so stark...It's more like looking at an old STAR TREK episode where Captain Kirk split into two Kirk's by a malfunctioning transporter (The Enemy Within,1966).

    GERTY's inabiilty to respond to questions is also bewildering as is Sam's willingness to accept or avoid looking further into the truth. These scenes do raise from emotional and sensitively moving thoughts and ethical dilemmas, but motivations remain murky and awareness among the Sam's as regarding for example his wife is also fuzzily off-balance.

    The ultimate sleeping arrangements seem never to be revealed.

    A hunt begins, but what about architectural and mechanical, electronic designs and schematics for human repair work...? to assist in this exploration. There also seemed to be several other moon structures when the moon landscape has been shown, what about them?

    Then there's the altercation, a bit over the top and also strangely disquieting as to personalities, past memories and emotions - this a large disconnect between clones, not accounted for...reactions are too far apart, especially with the miniature town's demise. And where's GERTY in all this, conveniently out of the picture so minutes on end who is supposed to be taking care of Sam? The subsequent personality reversal is also irritatingly off-kilter...unless both these Sam's are bi-polar.

    There's also an expanded room scene using fake background illustrations, though a bit better than those in the next to last episode (a haunting one at that) of the original STAR TREK - "All Our Yesterdays" (1969) and the corridor of vast computer library.

    Wow GERTY begins to explain in the 50th minute - what a shocking awareness. Pretty sci fi. Yet the explanations only answer "half" the questions raised.

    As to why Sam doesn't completely confide as to what is going on and what he has found out seems more like a script device designed to create unnecessary turmoil...typical in horror films... at least there's "replay" I guess for the full intensity of the initial affect and even this little revelation is cut short in the movie to disappointing effect.

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