Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Moon

NetFlix
IMDB
My Rating: 7/10

An astronaut living alone on a lunar base is coming to the end of his three year work contract.  His years of isolation have left him craving human interaction, but as his final day approaches, he starts to discover disturbing things about his base and himself.

Here is a 2009 indie film that I think nearly all our KFP visitors would love.   It's the director's first feature, made on a measly budget of $5 million by a devoted fan of serious SF of the pre-Star Wars years.   I'm speaking of that non-flashy school of SF films that at least made some pretense of trying to be science fiction, from 2001 to Silent Running to Blade Runner to Outland.  That sort of SF seems to have pretty much died out in cinemas, despite brief exceptions like Gattaca.  It's the stuff that Heinlein/Asimov/Clarke grognards would call "real science fiction" instead of "space opera", dominated by ruminating on the possible impact of scientific advancement on our lives.

Moon, like Triangle, is really hard to write a review about because I don't want to give away anything about the story. I would also REALLY avoid reading the IMDB page for this one if you might want to see it, because it is spoiler central with no regard whatsoever for the dramatic impact of the film's central thesis. Here's what is safe to say - The movie is about one astronaut responsible for solo operation of a lunar mineral harvesting station, who is coming to the end of his three year tour of duty and suffering from prolonged isolation. His only companion is the station's AI and helper robot, GERTY, voiced by Kevin Spacey. I will say nothing about the plot other than that it is good, gripping, and if you liked the general themes and ambiance of movies like "Silent Running" and "Outland", you will like this.   Lots of good ideas here about future tech, and not a laser pistol battle or space dogfight in sight.  Not that these things are bad, mind, it's just that a little brain protein in the diet helps make Johnny healthier than just consuming Twinkies all day.

In lieu of talking about the plot, I should mention some cool sidebar bits about the film. It is the first SF film made since forever that uses all miniature SPFX instead of CGI. The director has said there is CGI in the film but it's only in places where you can't notice it, instead of being the main show. The funny part is that the director had to find all these 70 year old dinosaur SPFX guys and haul them out of retirement to help with this, because all the effects houses currently running were too expensive and didn't know a thing about building models and using camera tracking and such. So, it gives the movie a unique look in this day and age, and it really looks quite good. It's the opposite of CGI in a way, because my eye would look at a rover and think, "That's a model", instead of looking at an entire scene and thinking, "None of this exists at all". For example:


Personally, I thought the effects work was terrific, though it is not an effects-dominated movie by any means. They also went to a lot of trouble to give everything a look of realistic tech, and "very used tech". 70's kids will be instantly comfortable with the design motif:



They really did a terrific job on a drink-cart budget.

I also have to give major kudos to GERTY, for general design and personality. GERTY is something like the station's housekeeper, responsible for keeping our hero alive and functional, and looking after the mining operations. GERTY is a great robot, one of the better ones, and combines the eerie AI of HAL with the sort of clumsy charm of the Silent Running droids. He also looks like a real robot, which gets extra points from me, in the sense that he looks absolutely nothing like anything but an extremely dexterous arm hanging from the ceiling and a box with a smiley screen on it. All the corridors have tracks in the ceiling so GERTY is constantly wired directly to the station and just glides around the halls like some giant robotic bat. His video screen, intended to facilitate emotional relations with humans, is both touching and creepy in equal parts, given that his emotional expression is done via smileys:



Going off on a tangent here... Just recently I saw a news article on the shiny new "home robots" from RoboDynamics (Article here).  They are beautiful things, lovely to be sure:


Yet despite all the press hoopla and "synergistic monetizing of cloud-based open sourcing" corporate-speak of the news stories, I find myself looking at this iRobot thing and wondering what the heck it can do.  It has no useful arms, it can't manipulate anything, it's too tall to work as an under-chair vacuum cleaner like the excellent Roomba...  I dunno.  GERTY, to my mind, is perhaps the best example of a useful household robot that I've yet seen in films, or at least the most realistic.  I've always tended to favor the practical robot designs, though - The droids in Silent Running and R2D2 both exemplified the look of a robot designed for a purpose, rather than to look pretty.  One of these days I will satisfy my deep robot craving and get myself a Roomba, if only for the fun of watching it chase the cats.

Back to the movie!  And yet... that's about all I can say about the film without going spoilerish. Neat old-style SPFX and a great robot. The movie was supposedly shown in advance screenings to NASA employees for their seal of approval, which isn't something you'd hear about the latest Star Wars prequel. Moon is out on DVD now. Here is the trailer from YouTube, which gives an excellent idea of what the film is like, but be warned that it is a *bit* spoilerific - It doesn't give away any major scenes or storyline, but it does show a couple of things that become the focus of the story, though you may not recognize them as they pass. Watch at your own risk, depending on how much of the premise you want to know before renting/buying:



I highly approve of this movie!


Suggested Accompaniment:  Ecigs.  Seriously, what else could you smoke during a near-future SF film but a near-future alternative to tobacco?