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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Movie Review: MOON


"You've been up here too long, man. You've lost your marbles."
-- Sam Bell

Moon is a 2009 sci-fi drama that served as director Duncan Jones' feature film debut. Sometime in the future, a company called Lunar Enterprises has found a way to harvest and mine helium-3 from the moon in order to convert it to energy for the citizens of planet Earth. They set up a base on the moon, where Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) has been enlisted as the sole man to run the mining operation. The completion of his three-year contract with the company is nearing completion, and an ill and slightly crazed Sam is ready to return to Earth to be with his wife Tess (Dominique McElligott) and his daughter Eve. With two weeks left on the moon, Sam, with the help of the onboard computer system GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), notices that one of the harvesters has started to malfunction, so he decides to make his way out onto the moon's surface to fix the problem. Because of his illness, however, Sam mishandles the situation and finds himself severely injured after crashing his rover. Some time later, he awakens inside the base, only to find an identical Sam lurking around the station. Confused, the two Sams attempt to piece the mystery together.

When this film first hit theaters in 2009, I was ecstatic to see it. I went out of my way to find a theater that was some distance away just so I could take it in as soon as I possibly could, and I was so blown away by the film that I left the theater nearly speechless. Eventually, I found a copy of the film, and I was able to give it this second viewing nearly three years later. Although I remembered the basic premise of the film, I forgot about some of the little nuances here and there that made this one so unique.

That's what really sets this film apart from other contemporary sci-fi flicks. In a year when everyone was (rightfully) praising Neill Blomkamp's District 9, so many missed out on this little gem of a film that I personally thought was leagues ahead of the aforementioned Blomkamp venture. One of the reason its so fantastic is that we're actually getting something rather original. While the film does fall under the science-fiction genre, it's so based in reality that it becomes instantly believable. At the same time, we're thrust immediately into the story, getting just the right amount of exposition at the beginning so that we're not completely confused. However, a big part of why this film manages to grab and keep our attention is the confusion that it creates. The plot offers a number of twists and turns, and you're never quite sure exactly what's going on. It's only in the film's third act that we start to understand what we've witnessed, and it's in the finale that we're able to appreciate the film fully.

In this second viewing, I did have a moment where I caught something I had missed before, and this little bit of information almost ruined the film for me. I had already had predisposed notions based on what I thought the film meant back in 2009, but one singular line of dialogue changed the film entirely. After stressing about whether I still liked the film and its message, it occurred to me that the plotline itself - the twists and the turns, specifically - were secondary to the message that Moon is trying to convey. At its heart, its a story of ethics. And as with any ethically-centric story, a certain level of emotion is needed to make the audience care about the difference between right and wrong. And this is where Moon truly succeeds. It establishes that emotional connection between viewer and the Sam Bell character, and that connection is what draws us into the film's story.

One reason the connection between audience and Sam is so strong is the performance brought forth by Sam Rockwell. It's a tour-de-force performance, and to this day, I still think it's the best of his career. Because he's essentially the only actor with more than five minutes of screen-time, much of the film's emotional component rests on his shoulders, and Rockwell takes it in stride. He portrays so many different sides to the Sam Bell character that it's truly remarkable that he was able to convey each one so convincingly. I also liked the fact that Jones was able to snag Spacey for the vocal performance of GERTY. It offered a familiar voice for the audience, and Spacey did well with humanizing the character.

I also want to applaud composer Clint Mansell for crafting a perfect score for Moon. It's a soft and laid-back composition, but it manages to fit the tone of the film perfectly. Here's a little snippet for your listening pleasure:

At the end of the day, Moon is not only one of the better films I've seen in recent years, but it is also one of the better sci-fi films I've ever been able to see. If you haven't had a chance, I strongly suggest you give this one a view. I have a feeling you'll be thoroughly surprised.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: A
2 Thumbs Up

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