Tuesday, July 21, 2009







Run Time: 97 min.


Why do I like this sci-fi movie so much? It does not have a particularly mind-boggling story or have over-the-top visual effects or a totally fantastic view of a future time. Perhaps that is the precise reason why I like this little indie flick (shot in 33 days with a budget of $5M). It remains faithful to the classic science fiction genre, where the focus is on thought-provoking fiction usually set in a future environment rather than mind-numbing explosions and ray-guns. Not that there aren’t any special effects; in fact, the visual rendition of the moon station and lunar rover trips are truly impressive.

The movie begins with astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) nearing the completion of his 3-year contract with Lunar Industries to mine on the far side of the moon for Helium-3. Set in the near future, Earth has solved its energy and climate crisis by using Helium-3 as their primary source of clean energy. Sam is on a base set up on the moon and is the sole employee responsible for mining. He is further isolated by a broken satellite which has restricted live communications with Earth. Taped messages are all that can be exchanged at present and Sam is eager to reunite with his wife Tess and 3-year old daughter, Eve. His only companion on the desolate station is a super-computer “GERTY” (perfectly voiced by a dead-pan Kevin Spacey).

Suddenly his health starts to deteriorate and leads to a near-fatal accident on a routine drive in a lunar rover. Sam wakes up back at the base in the infirmary with no recollection of how he got there. He senses a presence on the station which looks eerily similar. With Gerty providing evasive answers, Sam is fighting the clock to find out the truth before the company “support crew” arrives.

The director is obviously influenced by several gems of the Sci-fi genre and pays homage to “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Solaris” and “Blade Runner”. Gerty certainly, and almost immediately, brings to mind another super-computer HAL (from 2001: A Space Odyssey) and sets an ominous tone for things to come. Kevin Spacey’s intentionally flat unemotional tone is clearly based on voice of HAL and serves beautifully in setting up the tone for events to come.

This movie could not hold its own without the solid portrayal of Sam Bell by Sam Rockwell. It is an enormously difficult task to play a solitary character on the screen (Rockwell hardly has anyone else on the screen to play off of) and yet engage the audience enough to gain credibility, sympathy and ultimately, getting them to root for you. Sam Rockwell does a remarkable job in achieving this. The special effects are not overshadowing but very effective. I like how the space-suits and vehicles are not brand spanking new but carry the blemishes of regular wear and tear. The station where Sam lives is futuristic but purely functional, with no super-sleek designs or excessive gadgetry around. After all, Sam is just a blue-collar worker who happens to be on the other side of the moon.

A little side note: while he has earned his due credit entirely on his own, trivia fans might enjoy knowing that director Duncan Jones is the son of a rather famous father, David, who goes by the last name Bowie. I might point out that nowhere in the press kit will you find this reference. Duncan Jones’ debut is promising enough to suggest that he can leave his mark on film-making with similar efforts down the road.

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