Saturday, July 25, 2009

Moon - will the real Sam Bell please stand up?

A group of us headed up to the QFT on Thursday night to see Moon, a low-budget, independent science fiction film that got its release timing just right to coincide with last week's Apollo 11 anniversary.

Still from the 2009 film Moon

Lunar Industries are harvesting Helium-3 from the moon which is returned to Earth to be used as clean energy. The process is pretty much automated, using four huge harvesters named after the four gospels! So they've just one employee on the moon - Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell) - who's contracted to live alone, keep an eye on the heavy machinery and load the harvested fuel pods into what looks like an escape pod and send them back down to Earth.

Technical difficulties mean that there's no real time comms link to Earth. So instead all his messages arrive as videograms. So Sam's only day-to-day conversation is with GERTY - a robot (voiced by Kevin Spacey) designed to look after him. As the film starts, Sam has only a few weeks of his three year contract left to run and is looking forward to returning home.

Just why Sam was chosen for this role is ambiguous. From the video messages we see, the relationship with his wife Tess had been strained. Had he been in prison? His background is never explained. But it's been a lonely three years, and his mental health is beginning to suffer.

Shot in 33 days in the K and W stages at South West London's Shepperton Studios, Moon is only 97 minutes long and feels like a screen play that grew out of a classic science fiction short story. About a quarter of the way through the film, Sam has an accident while out in the lunar rover to collect helium from one of the harvesters. He wakes up in the base's infirmary, and is told by GERTY that's he must be confined inside until a rescue crew arrive to fix the harvester and take him home.

I want to avoid totally giving away the film's big plot point. (The film's press kit has lots of detail to digest after you've seen the film!) But while Moon has shades of Solaris and Sunshine, it's not a psychological thriller. There's tension, but not in huge quantities. Clint Mansell's music sets a lonely and mechanical tone to the film. Perhaps the film's biggest failing is that the audience largely fails to empathise with Sam Bell. We understand his dilemma, but don't feel his pain. No one cries!

The ending is satisfying and appropriate - even though it seems to create unnecessary holes in the plot. And the last few seconds may well tee up director Duncan Jones' next film that will be set in the same universe as Moon.

It's on in the Queens Film Theatre for another couple of days. It's a film that asks questions about the value of life, corporate ethics (Lunar Industries is a "green" company, but it's not entirely transparent), as well as a healthy dose of bioethics.

Worth catching. And don't forget the £3 tickets on Mondays! Though the screen in QFT1 is looking a bit grubby these days ...


edricvoneber said...

Of course it's not a psychological thriller. This movie is a character study, an exploration of identity.

And I must take exception to your claim that "the audience" does not empathize with Sam. At the screening I attended, they most certainly did, myself included!

I must also disagree with you on the ending. Satisfying though it may be, it was rather hurried and, unlike the rest of the movie, was full of holes (I'm disregarding the science gaffs, such as the lack of 1/6 gravity the movie displayed). Come on, Sam II is in an H3 pod - this doesn't go straight to Lunar Corp.? How does he escape to inform congress about the clone debacle? Non-the-less, I enjoyed the movie greatly and will be adding it to my library, right next to "Silent Running".

Leslie in Adams Morgan said...

hello alan in belfast ...

I watched Moon on DVD last night and enjoyed it quite a bit. I agree with your assessment that it comes across as having developed from a short story.

I have to disagree with your statement, though, about not feeling empathy for Sam Bell. I especially "felt his pain" when he realized his daughter was much older and that he was not the original Sam Bell.

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

I'm obviously too hard and callous! Glad you enjoyed the film too.