Tuesday, July 14, 2009


"Hello, I Must Be Going"

Charlie Duke lived for a couple of days on the Moon. In two documentaries,* he's repeated the story of the vivid dream that he had while feverish during a training exercise.

He and his Captain, John Young, were driving in their Boeing-built moon-buggy to an area that did not seem familiar, at least it didn't look like the geography of the place they'd been prepared for. They kept driving, and came across tracks. Tire tracks that stood out on the virgin lunar soil like they had fluoresecent yellow stripes painted down them. Somebody had been here before.

And so we got excited, told Houston, and they said 'Well, follow the tracks.' You could tell by the tread marks that the vehicle was going to the east. So we turned right, to the east. And towards the eastern end of the valley we come upon this car, as we come over the ridge and there's this car which looked very similar to the Lunar Rover and there was two figures in it. So we radioed that we'd found this car, and we start to describe it, and they start to get excited, we're excited. So we turned the car, pointed and turned the TV on, and I ran over to the passenger side and I pulled up the visor and I was looking at myself. But it wasn't like a nightmare - it wasn't like you were dead - whoever it was looked like me but it wasn't me, I'm in this dream and I'm ok, and it wasn't like a premonition. I didn't wake up, it's just me.

He told no one about that dream until after he came back from the Moon.

There's a similar thing going on in the new
Duncan Jones sci-fi movie "Moon" (it seems like we've been inundated with sci-fi films the last few years, but we really haven't—they've been dumbed down fantasies and super-hero flicks). Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is an employee for Lunar Industries, finishing up a lonely three-year stint on the far side of the Moon, supervising and fixing up the robotic rock harvesters providing the Earth with "safe, clean" Helium 3 for energy—by this time (never specified) 70% of the USA's energy comes from Helium 3.

He gets taped messages from Earth from his wife and 3 year old child. He gets occasional updates from Headquarters,
he works on his whittled miniature village, gets on the treadmill, and watches old episodes of "Bewitched."** And there's a helpful robot named "Gerty" (voice by Kevin Spacey, channelling Douglas "Hal" Rain), that can see to his medical needs, give him updates and generally "make sure" he's safe. He also has a handy cup-holder, and a little emoticon-generater to show Sam his "mood."

Something goes wrong (something always has to
go worng!) with one of the harvesters, and Sam goes out to investigate. Lately, he's been hallucinating, seeing people at the Sarang Moon Base and he's supposedly the only bi-ped on the planetoid. One of those hallucinations distracts him and he ends up smashing his vehicle into the side of the harvester, injuring himself in the process.

He wakes up in the infirmary—Gerty solicitously telling him that he needs to take it easy and that he's in no condition to resume his duties, and indeed, he's having trouble walking and remembering what happened to get him there, and he's surprisingly short-tempered. Not only that, Gerty's telling him he can't go outside...at all...he's in no shape to do anything right now, and Earth is sending out repair crews to fix the harvester. But that's not good enough for Sam, so he devises a leak to some system or other, so he HAS to go outside to check the source.

Once he gets out there...well, that would be telling.

Jones sets up a nifty little mystery that could have twenty different sci-fi solutions to it (they've all been dramatized at one time or another on "The Twilight Zone"), and keeps you guessing until all becomes clear. But as with any good science fiction story, it's the implications that are most interesting, and they're delved into, and expanded in a brief audio coda at the film's end. Jones also finds a neat way to set the stage beyond the dull "It was a Dark and Stormy Future" graphics scrawl to explain how "things are different." And he has an able ally in Sam Rockwell, who is becoming one of our most gifted film actors. Here he has to do double duty as actor and re-actor (Spacey was recorded at another time, so Rockwell had to react to, basically, nothing) and he manages to do it—as he always does—in the most low-keyed, least grand-standing way possible. His own performance manages to stave off early speculation of "wot's hoppenin'" and with the sophistication of film-goers to the tricks of film-makers, that's a rare commodity. Almost as rare as moon-rocks.

Those who come to these for special effects jollies will see a return to old-school model effects (good ones!) and the very little amount of CGI (mostly in the realm of photo-manipulation). The sets are industrial-functional with a bit of future-pre-fab thrown in.

It's a good film, B-level science fiction, nicely thought out and carried out with sophistication, but nothing to radio Mission Control about.

"Moon" is a Rental.

* "For All Mankind" and "In The Shadow of the Moon" (in the out-takes)—each has a different perspective, and are both highly reccommended. It's hard to believe, but in a week from yesterday, will be the 40th Anniversary of the first lunar landing.

** My wife's favorite. Actually, it's an interesting choice for reasons I won't get into.


John said...

Watched this back to back with the new Harry Potter in the theater yesterday. I was a bit higher on this than you were... I'd give it an A-. It impressed by not doing exactly what you'd expect at each turn. It definitely strayed into sci-fi trope areas... but did it in a way that felt surprisingly fresh to me.

Meanwhile, I will never waste another minute on Harry Potter. This is the second time I've watched one of these films. It's an excruciatingly bad experience.

John said...

Also, I recommend that you catch The Hurt Locker before it's gone from theaters. Also an A-... it does many amazing things... and only disappoints by being "scripty" a couple of times.

Yojimbo_5 said...

John, thanks for commenting. I was hoping someone would call me out for the "Rental" rating, which I struggled over.

As the word implys, the designation is economical. I couldn't, at the end of the lunar cycle, say that it was worth $10.00to see, or even $6.50 (too bad for you, sucka!) and I didn't think you'd lose anything watching it on your home-screen, where it should be sought out.

Also the movie had no "sense of wonder"—it's an industrial "sci-fi" film a couple notches above "Outland." The best part of it was Sam Rockwell, who was good throughout, but was especially good in the...uh...second chapter when you wondered why he's so short-tempered. Heh. That was clever.

You can't talk about what's wrong with the movie without saying what "it's about," but it raises a bunch of logic questions (the most prominent being "Why him?"), that kinda destroys the atmosphere and the premise (Walaka will want to know why there's only 1/6th gravity on the outside of the base!).

We'll talk about "Half-Blood Prince" next week, where we'll decide for ourselves, thank you (You do realize you're not the target audience, don't you, just as we're not the target audience for "Twilight?").

And if "The Hurt Locker" isn't here next week, it'll be the week after. Kathryn Bigelow rocks.

John said...

I loved the details like the one about the new Sam still having temper problems... and the magnificent portrayal of a healthy young man sharing the screen with a decaying shell of a man. And even how it took the intellect of the healthy man to recognize what was going on... even when the clues were right there (like the half-completed model town.)

As for "why him"... I just figured, "why not?" Corporation has to use someone, right?

John said...

I've often imagined what it would be like to "meet myself" but never imagined the cagey "sizing each other up" vibe that this movie creates. It got very unnerving to watch.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Probably why Rockwell wanted to do it—very interesting choices he made, including self-loathing for another human being!

kevspam said...

sam rockwell and duncan jones answered some questions at SxSW, they explained the 1/6th gravity only being in certain scenes very simply. they had a budget of 5 million dollars. recreating 1/6th gee on film all the time was just far too expensive.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Thanks, kev. So noted.

The gravity discrepancy didn't bother me, but would other people Jon and I know.

But I think they missed a good bet when Sam has to "lift" something on the moon-base.