"ONE SMALL STEP FOR SAM, ONE GIANT LEAP FOR SAMKIND"
What (you ask) has this magazine cover to do with the Science Fiction movie "Moon"?
Well, it’s one that I just happen to have in my collection, a copy of which I spotted in the film….
Here’s my review:
Directed by Duncan Jones
Screenplay by Duncan Jones and Nathan Parker
Zowie! Let’s get that out of the way. Yes, Duncan Jones, co-writer and director of the British Science Fiction movie “Moon” is David Bowie’s son and if you want to think of the film’s plot as revealing the ultimate fate of Major Tom, go right ahead I won’t stop you.
Budgeted at five million dollars, “Moon” cost a lot less than a NASA lunar mission, or indeed a NASA moon shot toothbrush but, as with the slightly more pricey genre hit, “District 9”, provides an astonishingly big bang for its paltry space-credits.
Well, perhaps not so much literal pyrotechnics, as this is more cerebral Science Fiction, rather than space war, super hero slugfest or giant robot rampage. (Which is not to say that they can’t be brainbusters as well.) Rather, “Moon” is set on the title satellite within futuristic spitting distance of today. We’re mining dear old Selene naked (Down lads! Naught to do with the star of "Underworld"!) essentially raking through the moon dust for Helium 3, celebrity isotope of the century because of its potential use in nuclear fusion reactors. Here splendidly realised (in a tidy montage at least) and providing 70 percent of Earth’s energy needs. Korean based Lunar Industries Ltd. is a big mining concern that maintains a semi-automated one-man station on the moon station. Why they don’t shift over to total mechanisation given the high level of sophisticated robotics otherwise on display is one of the film’s few sticking points. Never mind, perhaps there’s a property rights derived legal necessity that requires the base have an actual human living and working on site. If so, you’d think that Occupational Health And Safety wouldn’t let them get away with a lone operator! With good reason too, as solo Astronaut Sam Bell, very near the end of a gruelling three year contractual tour of duty, is looking and acting increasingly seedy. Taking his character on what turns out to be an existential quest to find himself is actor Sam Rockwell, who’s shaping up into a rather noteworthy genre star.
Rockwell was Crewman Number Six from “Galaxy Quest”, Zaphod Beeblebrox in the “Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” movie, and even played Batman in the short film “Robin’s BIg Date”. He’s also rogue industrialist Justin Hammer in “Iron Man 2”. The “Moon” role is an actor’s challenge that results in one small step for Sam, one giant leap for Samkind. Rockwell quirkily paints a ‘Dorian Gray’ portrait of an off world working stiff coming messily unglued at the space suit seams. As who wouldn’t, with nothing to do but service dust harvesters, build intricate scale model buildings and watch reruns of “Bewitched” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”. Even his technical reading mater is dustily dated, I spotted a copy of the old weekly aviation encyclopaedia “Take Off” on his space bunk. What sad ubergeek would still have that? It’s issue # 15 and came out in 1988. Very interesting article on carpet bombing Germany with B-17s, as well as a spiffing reference guide to business jets, including (Tee hee) the “Rockwell” Sabreliner Series. (Sometimes, I even let Arnold J. Rimmer borrow my copy.)
There aren’t many other faces to take the focus off Rockwell’s cleverly star-crossed performance, though I did notice that Matthew Berry has a minor, as opposed to a miner, role. Berry is well known to surreal genre buffs for being in “The IT Crowd”, “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace” and “The Mighty Boosh”. Blink, and you’ll miss him here!
Poor Garth is well upstaged by the voice of Kevin Spacey, whose genre credits include: “Superman Returns”, “Seven”, “Outbreak”, “K-Pax”, “Austin Powers In Goldmember”, “Fred Claus” and the upcoming “The Men Who Stare At Goats”. It’s just as well he’s a voice actor too, (in “A Bug’s Life” at least) because he’s the calmly spoken GERTY, the base’s built-in HAL -9000 like computer/robot assistant. Actually Kubrick’s “2001” and its implacable Right Stuffy Space Rangers has a little less to do with the gritty tone of “Moon” than films like “Silent Running”, “Outland”, “Dark Star” and, at an existential stretch, “Solaris”. So, regarding rogue robots, you won’t find too many echoes of Duncan Jones’ bachelor degree in philosophy thesis: “How to Kill Your Computer Friend: An Investigation of the Mind/Body Problem and How It Relates to the Hypothetical Creation of a Thinking Machine.”
No, it’s not robot revolution that’s at the heart of Lunar Station Sarang’s (the Korean word for ‘love’) increasingly over pressurised troubles. Still, that entirely unflappable, too reasonable voice is one more reason to go over the edge and stay there. The film’s effectively evoked atmosphere is a low budget marvel and everything in the production design, from the womb like padded space suits to the cramped lunar rovers and the unyielding confines of the base itself, serve to bottle up the long suffering main character’s angst; as the human condition turns in on itself backed by a constant, air conditioned hum. (Craftsmanship like this doesn’t just happen, take a bow Production Designer Tony Noble, Costume Designer Jane Petrie and all your clever artisan Selenites!)
As an occassional propmaker myself I couldn’t help but keep an eye out for the usual recycled flotsam and jetsam being used in the sets, but for a film this low budget I was quite surprised that even I had trouble identifying the usual junk, apart from a few repainted plastic cutlery draw liners and packaging discards. I also suspect extensive reliance upon real miniatures and models tweaked with computer jiggerypokery also helped keep costs down. Oh, and Luna’s 1/6th Earth gravity is generally well depicted outside on the surface, with ‘moon hopping’ being the preferred (presumably wire rigged) mode of walking and roostertails of dust taking a long, stately time to fall. INSIDE the base, however, the filmmakers either worked around or ignored the issue. Given the questionably high level of biotechnology on display perhaps ‘The Company’ also makes artificial gravity generators?
I’m not sure if the main idea has enough juice to warrant an additional two planned sequels without serious tinkering but for the most part “Moon” is a deliberately slow paced, reflectively sturdy Science Fiction film, though veteran buffs will probably twig to what’s going on quickly enough. No real matter, the ending still feels organic to the plot, even if the ‘grand gesture’ finale doesn’t quite deliver on the measured build up. In a year that also yielded up the splendid “District 9”, “Moon” is a most impressive debut feature. You’ve really made the grade Mr Jones, protein pills all round!
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