Saturday, August 01, 2009

SyFy shows the wrong kind of "Moon."

Along with the reviewers who were lucky enough to see the film Moon in advance, I will not spoil the big secret in the movie. That's because it's familiar to people who saw the great science fiction movies of the 1960's and 1970's. This is, in a way, a tribute to those films.

To cover the basics: Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a working stiff who is the only human in a mining operation on the moon. He is not in live communication with his wife and child back on Earth, since his communications apparently must be routed the long way, from Jupiter. And as his three year shift ends, he's anxious and worried. And as an accident occurs, things start getting complicated.

I will mention that, compared to the classic thoughtful science fiction films, this one is willing to show the corporation Lunar Industries as manipulative and evil. In Blade Runner, the Tyrell Corporation operates oddly but is not sinister. The drug-running conspiracy in Outland is not corporate policy of ConAm 27, just misbehavior of some of its highly placed local operatives. Things are different this time.

Director and co-writer Duncan Jones (the son of David Bowie) made the homage almost completely perfect. Instead of CGI he shot the lunar surface scenes with models on a soundstage. The interior set could have been from 2001, down to the uncomfortable and stupid blast doors in the middle of the living space. And Sam Bell's robot assistant is very HAL 2000-like, although in the end a lot less psychopathic and not at all murderous.

Aside from that one extension of philosophy, Moon is a good film, but not a great film. I enjoyed it, but I won't own it on DVD. But while watching it in the theater, I kept thinking. "This should have been a movie on SyFy. But it's too smart for them."

The renamed Sci Fi Channel has made its own TV movies. None of them have a tenth of the thought of Moon. Most are cheap horror films with men in rubber suits and depressing, we're-all-gonna-die endings. In essence, they are all the same story, remade to excess.

Moon, on the other hand, is similar to the clever short stories that used to be published in the 1960's in science fiction magazines like Analog and and Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine and Galaxy and Astounding. Those short stories were primarily built on one exceptionally clever idea or plot twist.

The inability of other entities, including SyFy, to think like this is why their ratings are dropping and people are looking elsewhere. It isn't a problem of their name, it's what lies behind the name that counts. I would love to see many more movies like Moon, but it'll have to be from indie directors, not networks.