'Moon' and other sci-fis that don't talk down to you
Published: Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 12:04 p.m.
There are two different kinds of science-fiction movies. The more common variety are basically action movies set in space or the far-flung future. Because of the setting, these movies are considered sci-fi, although they have absolutely nothing to do with any discipline of science. This would include "Star Wars," "Star Trek," "Terminator" and the like.
Nate Rates It:
"Moon" – Rent It
"Sunshine" – Rent It
"2001: A Space Odyssey" – Buy It
While some of these movies can be terrific, I rather prefer the other kind of sci-fi - what I like to call cerebral sci-fi.
In this type of movie, the ideas are what drives the story. While often set in the same fantastic locales of regular sci-fi, these films are rich with though-provoking concepts, using science and psychology to tell a story that inevitably deals with the nature of man. There can be special effects in cerebral sci-fi, but they don't need elaborate effects because they have science (or something close to it, anyway).
These kind of movies are few and far between, but the latest example is a quiet movie titled "Moon."
"Moon" stars Sam Rockwell as the lone astronaut in an automated mining station on the dark side of the moon. With his only company being the detached robotic voice of GERTY (Kevin Spacey, who is perfect because he already sounds like a machine), Rockwell tends the machine, keeps watch and bides his down time carving figurines and watching '70s sitcoms.
He is nearing the end of the his three-year contract, when he will be shipped back to Earth and his beloved wife and daughter. But then something weird happens (I won't say what) and he gets into an accident (I won't say how) only to wake up in the infirmary, feeling strange and being tended by GERTY.
I couldn't say another word without giving something away, and the best part of a movie like "Moon" is figuring it out as you go. Suffice to say, things on the moon are not quite what they seem, and Rockwell has some incredible discoveries to make.
I don't want to build this up to more than it is. "Moon" is a deliberate film, not dull but definitely enjoying the stroll and not in a hurry to get anywhere. Some viewers may not enjoy it - there aren't killer robots, space alien death ships or physics-defying explosions. The special effects are good (the moonscapes are elegantly bleak) but they aren't important, and "Moon" knows it.
If you like smart movies and being engaged by a film that doesn't talk down to you, then "Moon" is for you, even if you aren't a science-fiction fan - which, for the record, I am not. But a good movie is a good movie, and "Moon" is a good movie.
The last cerebral sci-fi movie I saw came out more than a year ago. It was director Danny Boyle's last film before "Slumdog Millionaire." It's called "Sunshine," and it shows that Boyle is as versatile as he is gifted.
Cillian Murphy leads an ensemble cast as a crewmember of a spacecraft sent to drop nuclear payloads into the dying sun in an attempt to reignite it and save a freezing Earth. Everyone involved knows they probably won't make it home, but they are the planet's only chance. What they discover on their journey to the heart of the galaxy is dark and sinister and makes for a compelling sci-fi flick.
"Primer" is a movie that relies entirely on science-based concepts and has absolutely no special effects of any kind. Two engineers accidentally create a time machine, but the quantum mechanics of this mysterious box are hard to wrap your mind around. "Primer" is a puzzle box of a movie, challenging you to try and keep track of the twists and loops in the story.
"Gattaca" deals with the science of genetic engineering and how it could change and guide society. Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman star in this slick thriller about a genetically inferior man who cons his way out of the underclass by posing as a man with better genes.
And there are many others worth mentioning - "Altered States," "Blade Runner," "Dark City" and "Silent Running" are all bold, exciting films with a dark intelligence shining through.
And, of course, the most perfect example of cerebral sci-fi is the classic "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Here is an absolute masterpiece of cinema, using sci-fi to tell a story about the complete evolution of human consciousness. It's simple perfection had a profound effect on all of science-fiction, and it's influence is still felt in every cerebral sci-fi being made.
Like in "Moon," where GERTY could very well be the young, nicer brother of "2001's" HAL.
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