One Giant Disappointment for Moviekind

I’ve just returned from seeing Moon, the new SF movie starring Sam Rockwell, and I have to say I’m disappointed. Silent Running it ain’t…

Note: I have tried to avoid major spoilers in this review. If you’ve seen the trailer, there’s not much here you won’t already know.

I saw the trailer for Moon a couple of weeks ago at a showing of the new Harry Potter movie, and my husband and I were pretty excited about it – it looked like a taut SF thriller with elements of Silent Running and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and thus a nice change from superheroes and mindless robot mayhem. Perhaps we shouldn’t have expected something quite on the same level as those 70s classics, but I have to say that this is a film that does not live up to its advanced publicity.

First, the good bits. Sam Rockwell does a reasonable job with a demanding role. His character Sam is the only human who is physically present on set (the others being seen either via video communications or, in the case of Kevin Spacey, being the voice of Hal-like robot Gerty) and he is on-screen for almost the entire movie apart from a few exterior shots of the moon’s surface. When we get to the part with two Sams interacting, it’s easy to forget that there is only one actor on screen, playing two roles that are seamlessly integrated.

Gerty the computer is amusingly represented by an animated yellow smiley face displayed on the screen of an otherwise unanthropomorphic industrial robot. And Space: 1999 fans will love the moon rovers and the Anderson-esque angled credits over the beginning of the movie.

And that’s about all there is to praise, to be honest. The pace is sluggish, and the initial tension of the premise (Who is the lookalike in the moon rover? Is Sam going crazy after three years in isolation?) is soon dissipated as the mystery is solved about halfway through. Oh, and strangely there is normal gravity inside the base, even though reduced gravity is shown in the exterior shots – and this in a setting that does not have Star-Trek-like levels of miraculous new physics. Yes, it might have been tiresome for poor Sam Rockwell to act 1/6 gravity for the whole movie, but there was no attempt to even hint at an explanation either way.  

My real problem with this movie, though, is the upbeat ending. I know that they are pretty much obligatory these days, but a film that so clearly follows in the footsteps of Silent Running, Bladerunner and other SF classics really needs the punch of a nihilistic ending in order to make its point (which is that even a utopia has its dirty secrets). Indeed, the ending was so rushed that I got the impression it was originally less positive, and the makers did the bare minimum of work needed to make the changes the studio requested. I’m not sure who is to blame – the writer, the director or the actor,
or a combination of all three – but somehow the whole thing was flaccid
and emotionally unengaging. Sam’s predicament is truly tragic, but the saccharine ending defuses the tragedy and turns it into a banal megacorp scandal complete with media circus.

If this were just another summer blockbuster, it wouldn’t really matter if it wasn’t brilliant. But there are so few intelligent SF movies made these days that it feels like a criminal waste of effort to make such a half-arsed job of one. My recommendation? Don’t bother going to see Moon – get yourself a DVD of one of the older movies mentioned in this review and enjoy some real SF instead.

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