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"Moon": a Big Disappointment

I went to see "Moon" because it had great reviews everywhere I looked and I missed it on the Edinburgh International Film Festival this June which I regretted at that time. I didn't know much about the film except for that it's a low budget sci-fi feature by a beginning director. I watched it in Genesis Cinema in Whitechapel, London which turned out not to be an ideal place for such a movie. The screen was small, the cinema and the area around it quite dodgy, people who came to watch it seemed pretty accidental. All this was a big contrast to what I got used to for the last 2 weeks on the Era New Horizons film festival in Poland where film lovers come to contemplate movies. I don't know how this all affected my perception of "Moon" but I felt that I owe you this introduction.

So, how was the goddamn movie, you're asking? And my short answer is: It was bad. I simply did not enjoy it. And here is why.

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. The spaceship, the surface of the moon and everything around it make a very professional, although a bit old-school impression.

So I said the plot is not too interesting. Let me expand on it.

Duncan Jones tells us a story of an astronaut sent to the moon by his company to supervise the machinery extracting Helium-3 which turns out to be "the new oil", second-generation fusion power source. Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell) is accompanied by an intelligent computer, Gerty (does that remind you of something?). It's his last 2 weeks on the moon after spending there almost 3 years on the mission. He'll soon go back to Earth, see his wife and daughter who was born just after he left. Well... almost, as this is where the unexpected starts to happen. Sam has an accident and when he wakes up, he realizes he's not alone on the ship. He's accompanied by his own clone...

So, we have an issue about cloning, both the bodies and the brains. The issue of whether or not the clones can be considered equal to the "originals" and how to cope with the fact that there are clones of you out there. And what if you think you are original but turn out to be something else? How can you prove you're not and what to do about it?
To a person who doesn't know 2001 Space Odyssey or hasn't read Stanislaw Lem or Phillip 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.

But... after all, it actually might be a good idea for a movie. God is -- as it often happens -- in the details. 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.
And it's a shame as the cinematography is just fantastic, the movie has potential to have a very unique atmosphere and manages to keep you with this specific feeling of anxiety and admiration for the first half an hour or so only to leave you disappointed and asking "so is this all?" afterwards...

Was it really worth making a film with a story like that presented this way? I'll let you answer this questions yourself. Personally I felt a bit cheated as I was expecting some freshness, some provocation, some innovation. And all I got was a shallow story packed in a nice looking box branded "contemporary". Quite a comedown, don't you think?

michuk Borys Musielak

michuk michuk

Perhaps I did not clearly explain all the reasons why I disliked the film but the Washington Post reviewer did it for me:

"Screenwriter Nathan Parker's explanation for Sam's doppelganger is too mundane, doesn't entirely make sense and comes too quickly. It sucks the wind out of the movie."
(read the rest here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/gog/movies/moon,1156495/critic-review.html#reviewNum1)

This is exactly what Moon is. Too obvious. Too impatient. Too quick in revealing the whole mystery. And totally empty afterwards.

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ChrisKnipp ChrisKnipp

This is a nice little film and I think you're too hard on it. One of the nice features is the non-CGI exterior monscape, a rarity today. Another is Sam Rockwell's harassed everyman quality, a fresh outlook on the usually flashy sci-fi image of space travel.

I wrote a complete review of the film and here it is:
[on my website http://www.chrisknipp.com at http://www.chrisknipp.com/writing/viewtopic.php?f=1&t;=1291].

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. Or did it maybe happen to somebody else?

Such questions may arise in other space movies, but they're usually too preoccupied with such things as 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. But Moon 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 the whole plan 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?

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dziarski dziarski

I almost entirely agree with ChrisKnipp. "This is a nice little film and I think you're too hard on it."

Maybe You (michuk) expect too much from 5 mln dollars movie - as you wrote. The comparison of psychedelic style in Moon to those of Kafka books is in indirect way very relevant ! This movie isn't about outer space, this film is about human kind. It is psychological vivisection of our species. I enjoyed watching it on Warsaw Film Festival.

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