Sunday, July 5, 2009

Moon: A landing befitting of Apollo 13

So I just got back from seeing Duncan Jones's Moon, staring Sam Rockwell, Sam Rockwell, and Kevin Spacey. The movie had been pegged as a throwback to classic, 70s era science fiction, and I expected to see Rockwell going batshit insane at a mining facility on the far side of the moon. Working as the sole operator there at the end of a three year contract, his only companion is a Hal-esque AI named "Gertty," voiced by the ever chillingly cool Spacey. All of that sounds great right? The best part is that that promising description doesn't even hint at the true premise of the film, which further grounds the film in traditional sci-fi lore and gives it a unique spin with loads of potential.

Despite all that, though, Jones and co. managed to make one of the most formulaic and disappointing sci-fi films I've ever seen.

Maybe my expectations were too high, though the fact that I have to say that speaks to the supreme mediocrity of the film. None of the problems really rest with the performances of either the actors or Jones himself, all of the major work is pretty solid actually. The problem is more deeply rooted with not only the writing but the very aims of the film. To cite a common phrase, they don't quite shoot for the moon, and I'd be hesitant to say they set their sights much higher than the ceiling.

The film simply refuses to explore any of the questions it presents, and not in an intriguing or ambiguous way. Throughout the film there are constant references to potentially interesting parallels, social issues, and the ever central issue at the heart of so much sci-fi: what does it mean to be human? None of it is touched upon, however, and instead we are given an irritatingly predictable narrative that is just so frustratingly insular and melodramatic (which is not a word I see as being necessarily derogative). It's typical and immature Hollywood fare, and not in an exciting, J. J. Abrams kind of way.

I've avoided going into plot details until now, but I want to quickly just list a few areas where the film squandered the potential of its premise, so if you haven't seen it and plan to then stop reading. Not that anything I've said so far has provided much encouragement to save the experience for yourself...

Ok, so the movie deals with the classic conceit of the double, and more than that the manufactured double, but for now we see it from the necessarily isolated perspective of the double itself. We sort of saw this in Blade Runner, but here we see it from the very beginning of self-awareness, from birth itself, and despite all this the film truncates and glosses over all the psychological implications of Rockwell's nature. The second Sam comes right out and states his suspicions about his existence and then takes it for granted for the rest of the movie. The closest thing we get to introspection or inner-turmoil is when one of Rockwell's characters finds out his wife has been dead for years, and we see the melodrama of his world come crashing down on itself insofar as he can't "go home." Even better, Rockwell gets to act out this dramatic moment twice, as minutes later we see his other character come to the same realization. Both times the camera cuts away right about when Rockwell begins to have a childish fit, and leaves Rockwell's teary eyes as the last word on the issue. Instead of exploring the implications of their existence the two Sams realize it, confirm it, then get over it.

The only point at which this gets explored further (and I'm being generous by calling it that) is when Gertty compares himself to Sam, who in turn retorts that they're people, not programmed machines. Then the movie ends.

The film seems to be consciously ignoring its socio-political implications what with Sam being both a clone and a worker, literally built to do a job then die. It remains content to merely allude to greater ideas about human existence, which would be fine if those allusions were at least in the form of speculation, but we don't even get much opinion on the matter. By neglecting the seemingly necessitated discussions of existence and autonomy, the film denies us the potentially great "inner monologue" between Sam Rockwell and himself incarnate. This would have been an amusing scene to watch, it could have been a classic one if it were done as well as most of the interactions between Sam Rockwell and his double, and it would have elevated the film into the upper eschalons of narrative fiction. Instead the film blithely movies from point A to point B, providing us with evident plot devices to move the story along in a forward direction.

Shot story: watch Solaris, or Blade Runner, or 2001: A Space Odyssey. All of these films contain the basic elements of Moon, and do more with them. Hell, the Arnold Schwarzenegger flick, The Sixth Day, explores the concept of cloning and the meaning of human existence with greater depth and complexity, and manages to fit in just as much melodrama. Moon isn't the worst movie ever, but it has nothing to make it more interesting than anything you've already seen.

Oh, and the plot doesn't really make sense by the end. That was literally the least of my qualms with the film, but it's worth mentioning.

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