November 24, 2009 -- “Moon” is one of those rare, intelligent, thought-provoking science fiction films that come along less often than a blue moon. It explores some of the same philosophical ground as “Blade Runner” did about what it means to be human. It also explores moral questions related to slavery, exploitation and cloning.
The story takes place sometime in the future when a large portion of the world's energy is being produced by fusion reactors using helium-3 as fuel. Helium-3 is scarce on the surface of the earth, but plentiful on the surface of the moon, where the material is scooped up from the surface dust, and refined by automated harvesters. A lone man on the moon, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell of “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy”) oversees the whole operation, retrieving cylinders of helium-3 from the harvesters and sending them back to earth by automated rockets launched from the moon base.
Sam is nearing the end of his three-year contract on the moon and is looking forward to getting back to the earth to be with his wife and child, but he isn't feeling well. On his way to collect helium-3 from a harvester, he crashes into the harvester and loses consciousness. He wakes up back at the moon base where the base robot, GERTY (voice provided by Kevin Spacey) is taking care of him. GERTY tells him he has sustained a head injury as well as other injuries in the accident. When he finally staggers to his feet, he is dazed and confused. He sees another man who looks just like himself. Is he imagining things or is there another man on the moon? Gradually, he learns the true nature of his job on the moon, who he really is, and what is to happen to him when the rescue crew comes to fix the broken helium-3 harvester he ran into.
While this is a good science fiction film in that it explores serious issues in an intelligent way, there are some problems with the narrative and the science. The feel-good ending of the film doesn't really make sense. It involves a journey from the moon to the earth in a vehicle not designed to carry a human being. The sudden launch acceleration (it looked more like a cannon shot than a rocket launch) of the vehicle would crush a person to death. The signal-jamming apparatus on the moon is totally unnecessary. A much simpler, cheaper, more obvious method is available to prevent Sam contacting the earth. The amount of helium-3 needed to provide the kind of power being generated on the earth depicted in the movie would be approximately three metric tons per week, which is a lot for one man to collect, load and launch, especially considering the distance from the base to the far-ranging harvesters. In the movie, the amount looked more like 50 to 100 pounds per day, at most. The other problem is depiction of lunar gravity. Even with today's special effects technology, the film is unable to convincingly fake the low lunar gravity. Slow-motion, which is used in some scenes, does not convincingly replicate the look of the moon's slow gravitational acceleration. The only time this ever looked right was during the actual manned lunar landings of NASA's Apollo program. The scenes with Sam running on a treadmill and jumping rope are not doctored in any way to make them look like they actually take place on the moon.
The production design and the sets looked very good, and Sam Rockwell is very good in his performance. The film explores some thorny problems, such as the ethical treatment of workers. As an employee, Sam is treated worse than a slave. The robot, GERTY, actually demonstrates more humanity than the company Sam works for. The scary thing is that this is the direction we're heading. The law allows corporations to patent living things. If it allows corporations to patent human beings and own them, they could be legally treated as slaves, even on earth. On the moon, corporations might be able to get away with just about anything, unless someone was there to monitor what they do. Ethicists regularly debate the kinds of issues raised in this film, but the public pays little attention. This film may help rekindle this vital discussion. This film rates a B.
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