An all-too-successful return to bad, cheap sci-fi

| July 08, 2009

Moon opens Friday in select theaters

With only a single live actor on the spaceship set for the entirety of the film, Moon is a laudable attempt at a return to the low-tech sci-fi films we used to have, before George Lucas came along. It's also pretty dreadful in some similar ways as the era that brought us Plan 9 from Outer Space.

The story, by British filmmaker Duncan Jones, is a pastiche of the classics, especially 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running, with a few mystery-of-consciousness lifts from Blade Runner and The Matrix. Still, one has to appreciate the moxie of the film's producers and designers in their ability to fabricate a set on the moon with a budget that wouldn't cover the craft services of a Star Wars sequel. And, stealing good ideas isn't necessarily bad: Many a movie has profited from judicious theft. However, Moon is not one of them.

The premise: Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the sole human engineer stationed at a moon base operated by an Earth-based mining company. All day (or night) long, he operates a harvester that digs up Helium-3. He then packs the helium into canisters and blasts them back to the planet, where the fuel will create green energy in the form of nuclear fusion. All by his lonesome he does this, accompanied only by Gerty, a talking robot that acts as an all-purpose factotum and has a small computer screen that displays variations on a Walmart-style smiley face to convey its emotions. Kevin Spacey supplies the voice, bringing a HAL-like creepiness that enlivens the proceedings even as it turns out to be unwarranted.

The story turns into a space thriller when Sam discovers that he may be a clone. The story's second half unfolds with the appearance of a second Sam and heads toward its not-thrilling climax as the two Sams—one of whom is now dying—struggle to understand the nefarious activities of their employer, Lunar Industries.

The first problem with the film is this: If such a resource as He-3 could be extracted from the moon profitably enough to solve the Earth's energy problems, we would have a hell of a bigger lunar presence than this crappy movie- set mining operation manned only by Sam Rockwell.

The second problem is this: Why on earth (or on moon) would Lunar Industries waste any time with an elaborate and sinister scheme to clone humans when it would be so much cheaper to use robots for the lucrative mining helium-mining operation? Surely, even a steady stream of Kuwaiti laborers would be more cost-efficient than maintaining an entire supply cellar of clones (spoiler, sorry).

But in taking the movie on its own humble terms, it's still impossible to abide such groaner lines as, "We're not programming, we're people." And groaner characters: Sam has a sweet daughter back on Earth whom he misses terribly, named "Eve."

There are problems, too, with the science in this science-fictional film. At one point, one version of Sam (No. 2) rescues the other (No. 1), who'd been trapped in his harvester, unconscious in his spacesuit. Sam No. 2 wipes the frost off the visor of No. 1's space helmet. Thing is, there's no water on the moon, so what's making the frost? A cold night at Shepperton Studios, outside of London, where this film was made?

Similarly, there are scenes of Sam No. 2 keeping fit in the base's gym with activities that are designed for Earth's gravity: punching a speed bag, skipping rope and playing table tennis—all at Earth speed. (And why is there a Ping Pong table in this one-man mining facility?) So egregious were the offenses against the physical realities of the moon that I expected the movie's revelations to turn on this point, that the "moon" would be revealed as a hoax perpetrated on the Sams who are oblivious to the fact that they're actually in a movie studio (just as the conspiracy theorists used to believe about the moon landings, back in the day).

To give you an idea of the film's fatal banality: At a crucial moment, Sam No. 1 tries to log into some sort of online video log. From a computer interface that is strictly WarGames, we hear a female monotone: "Access denied. Access denied. Access denied." The only way to defend such triteness is to argue that the clones in Moon are programmed with the computer literacy of characters in a 1983 sci-fi film. But movie audiences in 2009 are going to find the accoutrements laughably archaic.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin really did walk on the moon 40 years ago this summer. But this film is the aesthetic equivalent of a 1950s suborbital launch, rather than speaking to the paramount engineering challenge of the 21st century, that of creating clean energy.

Comments (8)

Showing 1-8 of 8

Wow, I came to the site in order to read your now infamous review and I am glad I did so AFTER I saw the (incredible, visually stunning, emotionally moving) film. You are consistently the weakest reviewer of the Independent but this review is so sophomoric, so obtuse and unprofessional that it warrants acknowledgment from the Indy and your editor that publishing it was a mistake.

Posted by aebgiven on 08/28/2009 at 11:07 AM

I'll echo all the other complaints about appropriate methods of introducing spoilers (hint: it's before, not after. Hope this helps), and add that that Gil Scott Heron reference in the photo caption makes you look like a pretentious jerk, instead of simply a jerk.

So, you got that going for you.

Posted by jason0x21 on 07/20/2009 at 11:47 PM

I want to reiterate everything the others have said about this movie. I had made up my mind that Moon would be a horrible movie based on the author's review. My friend convinced me to go and the review ruined my whole experience of it. Not only was I primed to look for the negative in the movie (which I had trouble finding), but so much of the plot was completely ruined for me. I was pissed. Opinions of the film aside, you CANNOT spoil a plot. The most "egregious" bit of all this is that your contempt for the film experience and your readers was clear when you wrote "(spoiler, sorry)". What the F*%k!

Now opinions up front. You gave that movie 1 star!??? Okay,maybe it wasn't a four star, but it wasn't Big Mama's House 2. Come ON!!! IMDB gives it 8.3/10 and RottenTomatoes gives it a 90%...........out of a HUNDRED percent!!!

David, I thought your recent coverage of the Varsity closing down was great. And I'm sure I have read many of your reviews in the past and thought they were spot on, but I can't see what you were thinking. It's like you didn't even give this film a chance.

I used to totally trust the Independent for most opinions, but now I will certainly be skeptical.

- bt -

Posted by tedderbo on 07/19/2009 at 1:33 AM

I helped review this movie on, and let me say that a)We liked the movie, and b)We took great strides to not reveal any plot spoilers. We aren't movie reviewers by trade, but somehow we managed to uphold higher standards than you did. I will agree that it was difficult to review without mentioning the rest of the plot, but that's what an honest reviewer should do. I would have done the same thing if I didn't like the movie. There are many people that would really like this movie, and you just totally ruined it for them.

Posted by delsydsoftware on 07/13/2009 at 2:17 PM

It's not the job of a reviewer, no matter how self-important, to give away the plot of a movie. The Indy should hire someone who knows the basic requirements of the job.

Posted by Steve Bocckino on 07/10/2009 at 12:12 PM

Please learn to write a review without spoiling the plot. If you must do so please indicate a spoiler beforehand not after. What an @$$hole.

Posted by screenguest on 07/09/2009 at 3:33 PM

Gotta say, I thoroughly enjoyed Moon and its minimalist, throwback approach to sci-fi. (Plus they used models for their FX! who uses models anymore?) Yes, some of the dialog was banal, and if the movie suffered from anything, it was that it wasn't creepy enough, and didn't go far enough in showing what a fubbed up situation in which the main character was stuck.

I also have to disagree with David's physics part of the review: that wasn't frost on the faceplate; it was pretty clear it was a thick coating of moondust.

Posted by Jape on 07/09/2009 at 3:29 PM

Have you never heard of a "spoiler alert"? It's two words that most literate, civilized humans use at the BEGINNING of a review to warn one another that an upcoming passage contains information that may ruin the material being reviewed. In giving away an important plot point, and writing "spoiler, sorry" AFTER it, you do nothing but reveal your utter contempt for this movie. You are not "sorry" at all! You further reveal your contempt for your reader, by ruining their movie-going experience. Thanks a lot JERK! Oops, spoiler, sorry!

Posted by Tattoo_Bruce on 07/09/2009 at 3:24 PM
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