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“Moon”
Reviewer:
Chris Pandolfi
Studio: Sony Pictures
Genre:
Science Fiction
Release Date:
1/12/10
Special Features:

2 audio commentaries / 4 featurettes

Review:

We open with a promo for the benefits of Helium-3. In the future, it's been discovered that the sun's rays bathe our moon with this precious substance and can be harvested, shipped back to Earth, and used as a pollution-free power source by means of nuclear fusion. The only hitch, apparently, is that harvesting Helium-3 requires an astronaut to spend three years on the far side of the moon, where darkness and barren landscapes serve as reminders of just how isolated he will be. ***

This is the situation Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) finds himself in. Even with a well-stocked food supply and various forms of entertainment, one can only be alone for so long before the mind begins to deteriorate. Is there any way to account for talking to yourself? Is there any way to account for a literal interpretation of that last statement? ***

There are such fascinating psychological concepts coursing through "Moon," the feature film debut of Duncan Jones, son of musician David Bowie. He tells a story, but he seems much more interested in probing the human mind. This is interesting given the fact that, at this unspecified point in time, there's no real way to define what it means to be human. ***

I'm being annoyingly vague, I know, but this isn't a film that easily lends itself to detailed descriptions. The audience will continuously be asking, "Why?" all throughout, which is good because Bell is asking himself the exact same question. Things are happening for reasons no one is entirely sure of, save for the fact that this entire operation is run by a corporation. Corporations have agendas. Agendas have to be kept. ***

The story unfolds gradually and doesn't actually begin until the moment Bell crashes his rover vehicle into an automated harvest machine. He awakens in the medical ward of the main station completely unaware of what happened. He is, however, continually reassured by the station's computer, GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), who has a central unit running along a track on the ceiling. ***

It obviously has no feelings, but it is programmed to know which emoticon to display at the appropriate moment. Does this computer know more than it lets on? Why was it able to have a live video conference when Bell could only rely on recorded messages sent back and forth? He could have had the chance to speak directly with his wife, Tess (Dominique McElligot). Then again, after three years, she's likely to be a very different person. ***

GERTY, whose monotone voice is eerily incompatible with its accommodating nature, will inevitably be compared to HAL 9000 from Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." Indeed, there many distinct similarities throughout the whole film, from the sterile look of the station's rooms to the emphasis on science and technology. ***

That being said, "Moon" doesn't end with a spiritually profound statement. It goes for a more existential approach, continuously exploring themes of sanity, isolation, physical health, and most importantly, self-discovery. I'd like to say more on that last point, but I think you'll enjoy this movie much more if you go into it cold, as I did. Not knowing beforehand what I would be experiencing allowed me to think about it all throughout on a deeper level. ***

Much of the story plays like a duel, in one corner a reasonably fit Bell, in the other a Bell whose body seems to be losing cohesion. He's feverish and pale. He continuously coughs up blood. He's weak and hostile. There isn't much of an explanation for this, but it does make for an interesting visual counterpoint, quite possibly made with the intention of representing different aspects of his personality. ***

Other traits come into play, none more telling and understandable than his hobby of carving wood into miniature buildings, complete with miniature people. He also tends a small potted garden, and he makes a point of talking to the plants as he gently sprays them with water. Three years is an awfully long time on the moon. Even holding a conversation with GERTY can't possibly be enough to keep him going. ***

The mysterious nature of the story is second only the mysterious nature of the moon itself. We know that it's reachable, and indeed, we've been there before. But how much do we really know about it? What secrets lurk within the craters and deep shadows? In the future tense of "Moon," corporate entities see it not as a celestial enigma but as a resource, and who's to say how long they can rely on it before it's depleted? How long can you rely on people as a resource? These questions are never posed in the film, but I sure did think about them as I was watching. ***

Special Features:

This DVD includes two audio commentaries, one with writer/director Duncan Jones, director of photography Gary Shaw, concept designer Gavin Rothery, and production designer Tony Noble, the other with writer/director Duncan Jones and producer Stuart Fenegan. Also included are four featurettes: “The Making of ‘Moon’”; “Creating the Visual Effects,” which is divided into “CG Tour of the Moon Base,” “Cloning Sam,” and “The Rovers”; a Science Center Q&A with Director Duncan Jones; and a filmmaker’s Q&A at the Sundance Film Festival. The film is presented in its original 2.40:1 widescreen format and features Dolby 5.1 Digital sound in English and French. ***

Final Words:

"Moon" is a science fiction fable of the cerebral kind, one that refuses to bombard the audience with typical action-grade clichés like laser blasts and spaceship fights and alien invasions. It works not as a spectacle but as a thoughtful analysis. We all use technology, but have we ever stopped to consider the psychological ramifications?

 

 
 
 
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