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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Monday (3/1/10) 9:03am - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Movies:  Moon [spoilers]
TV:  <none>
Books:  <none>

Moon [spoilers]
You see?  *This* is science fiction.  "Thunder-smurfs get burned out of Ferngully" is a solid adventure serial with cute fantasy elements grafted on, but it is not science fiction.  Moon is science fiction, where you start with a counterfactual idea and follow it where it goes, whether that leads to pretty explosions or not.

I feel petty, using Moon as an excuse to beat on Avatar.  It also feels like "Ooh, look at me, I'm cool because I'm making fun of the popular stuff."  That said, I'm going to keep doing this.

I mean, Moon provides a stark reminder that these days, genre movies have everything in common with the old thrilling adventure serials and virtually nothing in common with (say) the short stories from John W. Campbell's magazines.  Moon is a deliberate throwback, a quiet, thinky movie that was designed to stand alongside sci-fi films from forty years ago -- 2001 being the most obvious reference point.

Modern sci-fi movies go for extravagance for maximum budget.  This one tried to squeeze as much movie as possible out of five million dollars.  They used model shots instead of CGI.  They shot on a single set with a one-man cast.

And it feels like a classic science-fiction story because the whole thing hinges on an idea -- not a new filmmaking technique, not a thrilling quest for a magic whatsit, just an idea.  A "What if?"  So:  what if a company used a series of disposable clones to man a mining operation?

The movie doesn't do anything groundbreaking with this -- it just follows the standard movie template very effectively.  Ten minutes in, Sam notices the first signs of something going wrong.  Then the story ratchets up the weirdness and the danger, with clone #2 showing up, with clone #1 falling to pieces, and with the 'rescue team' planning to kill off both of them.  Soon you're in act three, with a ticking clock counting down to the rescue-team arrival, and the Sams trying to jury-rig a solution that will let one of them go home.

Simple, simple, simple.  But then, the rules of Go are simple.  Doesn't make it easy.

My only complaint is that there were a few stretches where I had sorted out the next plot point before the characters did.  For instance:  "Ah, right.  They are the latest clones in a long series of clones."  And then, no matter how good the next scene is, I'm impatiently waiting for the penny to drop for one of the Sams.

So why was I so busy ragging on Avatar at the start of this section?  I don't think it was *entirely* a pathetic attempt to prove to people that I have geek credentials.  I think it's mostly because of EscapePod.  Every week they do a science-fiction story on that podcast, and most weeks that story has some brain-melting idea at its core.  What if everybody in the world stopped aging?  What if superheroes formed a union?  What if the whole world saw the night sky for the first time in millennia?

It is a glorious literary world, and I never get to see it on film.  It's rare to see a sci-fi movie with a "What if?" in it -- so rare that most people don't even think that "what if?" is what sci-fi is about.  So when I see a movie like Moon, a movie that evokes those stories... it makes me feel cheated that the rest of sci-fi is so cheap and stupid by comparison.

(P.S. I only just now got the joke about "The One and Only".  At the time, I just thought it was a hilariously/inappropriately upbeat song to start the day with, like "I Got You Babe" in Groundhog Day.  I am slow.)

For next time:  I'm just about done watching another batch of Glee episodes, I'm almost through The Checklist Manifesto, and I should be finished with Perfecting Sound Forever in another week or so.  After forgetting to update my netflix queue for a while, I wound up with a copy of Silver City.  I suppose I'll watch that, though I have no idea why I even queued it in the first place.

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[User Picture]
Date:Monday (3/1/10) 12:09pm
I don't like Moon. I was bored throughout it (for many reasons, not the least of which being that I felt Kevin Spacey's GERTY was neither shot nor scripted [though perhaps, maybe, *maybe*, was voiced] as well as Douglas Rain's HAL 9000), and the whole film hinged on one actor who I thought didn't bring anything really interesting to the role/s. And I don't consider Moon to be in any way *more* science fiction than Avatar. Moon took existing technology a large leap further by making cloning a relatively viable and fast and easy process, robots comprehensively helpful companions, and it put a functioning mining station on the moon. Avatar had aliens, spaceships, holographic computer systems, and a tool for human nervous systems to occupy remote bodies. Both films seem pretty well-embedded in the genre of sci-fi, to me. I appreciate that Moon is more about the idea of the ramifications of future technology than it is about a futuristic quest or adventure, but that alone isn't enough for me to believe it's truer to science fiction than Avatar. I might have been compelled to bestow it with such an honor if I'd felt that it took its idea farther or to a less predictable conclusion.

So that I'm fair to the filmmaker (Duncan Jones, son of David Bowie!), I'll say that I very much enjoyed his short film, Whistle, a compact, poetic little sci-fi piece that is featured in the extras portion of the Moon DVD.
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[User Picture]
Date:Monday (3/1/10) 12:37pm
Thanks for the comment, Jeff!  It hasn't escaped my notice that you're being about a zillion times more respectful to Moon than I was to Avatar, so:  classy points to you, sir.  And yeah, I have to concede that Moon has problems with predictability.  I think I was to some extent trying *not* to predict the plot, just because I kept leaping ahead of the film.  I wish I'd known about "Whistle" before I sent back the DVD -- hopefully I'll get around to watching it eventually.
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[User Picture]
Date:Monday (3/1/10) 12:56pm
Ha... I've been waiting *forever* for an opportunity to voice my opinion about Moon without seeming contrary and crass (like I might if I were to comment on a FB update that said, "Saw MOON and loved it!") or seeming negative and smug by posting my own FB update ("MOON is so overrated!"). Thanks for providing a safe outlet :)
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