Saturday, September 05, 2009


Summer movie season is winding down again, although I have to admit that there are still plenty of good movies in theaters. Often times, in August, I resort to seeing things like Legally Blond 2 out of desperation, because studios tend to use August to dump movies that really no one needs to see. However, one night, I was trying to decide on my Friday night movie and became so overwhelmed with the choices, that I ended up going home and reading a book. Should I see Up, Ponyo, Food, Inc., The City of Lost Children, Thirst, Harry Potter, Objectified, or A Perfect Getaway? Just asking the question was giving me a headache, so I finished my Guiness and went home.

Plus, based on the critical consensus, I've already seen the most admired summer film, The Hurt Locker. But why is Katheryn Bigelow's movie so universally admired by critics? I've read plenty of the glowing reviews and while I agree that The Hurt Locker is a fine film, I don't share the enthusiasm. The Hurt Locker is unique among the Iraq War genre films in that it is probably the least political. It uses the war as a backdrop for a tense action film. I enjoyed the first 3/4 of the film, immensely. My disappointment with the film stems from the ending, making the statement that war heroes have no place outside of war and this message seemed a bit lazy and simplistic. So, while I enjoyed The Hurt Locker, my favorite overlooked summer movie is the very small scale science fiction Moon.

Moon is set in a near future where all of the earth's energy is supplied by a clean fusion of helium 3, an element that is rare on the surface of the earth, but is much more plentiful on the moon. Sam Bell (Sam Rockwall) is the single human inhabitant of a station overseeing the mining of helium 3. Sam is nearing the end of his 3 year mission and preparing to return home to his family on Earth, but his health is suddenly deteriorating. While outside of the station, he is in an accident due to a hallucination and when he wakes, well, that is when things get really interesting.

What is really great about Moon, is that it is a science fiction that takes full advantage of the genre. Moon sets up a scientifically sound premise to explore human nature. And this exploration occurs on a few levels. There's the question that Duncan Jones seems to be directly asking Sam Bell in the script, 'if you met yourself, would you like you?' But the bigger question about human nature that Moon seems to be pondering is whether corruption is unavoidable in any human endeavor.

Additionally, Moon had some of the best special effects that I've seen in ages. In making a low budget science fiction film, Jones was careful and sparing with the effects used. CGI was kept to a minimum in Moon and instead relied on use of models and other techniques and that this was deliberate. The result is that Moon looks much more stark and real than any special effects film I've seen in a while. There's a glossiness to today's special effects pictures that make everything seem very unreal, but this is avoided in Moon. The surface of the moon, the station, and the equipment used to collect the cylinders of Helium look completely real.

[Spoilers follow]

There is another film that has much in common with Moon, the Japanese The Clone Returns Home. It is a strange coincidence that two 2009 releases have plots about astronaut clones. They even share some key shots in common, specifically the striking image of a clone carrying his own body in a space suit. They are very different films, but I am pleased to have seen both because of the parallels. Moon is definitely the better of the films, but was also less ambitious since Duncan Jones was not attempting to explore existential issues of the impact of the existence of a clone on reincarnation of the soul. I've yet to see a movie that has suceeded in communicating such complex, philosophical ponderings to the screen. But what I am struck by is that the two films exist, made completely independently of one another. How does this happen? Their existence almost argues for a collective consciousness that crosses cultural barriers. Seems every few years, a handfull of movies come out that have striking similarities that are made completely independent of one another. I can never seen to remember examples of this phenomenon, but I'm pretty certain that is happens.

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