Reeling it in: For a change of pace, visit ‘Moon’

“Moon”

Sony Pictures

1 hour, 37 minutes

Last week after the debacle that was “The Dark Tower,” I thought, “Surely we’ll get something worth watching next week.” After all, “Detroit,” the gripping and relevant film from director Katherine Bigelow is getting a lot of buzz, so why not?

Why, indeed. If you’ve driven past either theater this week, you’ve seen that “Detroit” is not showing, though “The Emoji Movie” has been joined by “The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature” and “Annabelle 2,” the sequel to a spin-off of the opening scene of “The Conjuring.” It sounds like I’m making that up, but I assure you, it’s no joke.

So, as has happened before, I couldn’t bring myself to go to the movies this week. Instead, I decided to go back and look at a film that I missed when it first came out in 2009, despite being right in my wheelhouse. “Moon,” the contemplative science fiction film from director Duncan Jones and starring Sam Rockwell, is great — so great, in fact, that I can’t believe I waited so long to watch it.

The basic plot goes like this: at some undetermined point in the near future, nuclear fusion (as opposed to fission, which we have now) is perfected, providing the earth with near limitless, clean energy. The only catch is that the main ingredient of this fabulous new energy source, helium 3, is found on the dark side of the moon. A company called Lunar Industries handles the mining and distribution of this rare resource and everyone is happy.

Everyone, that is, except Sam Bell, the lone occupant of the mining facility, nearing the end of his 3-year contract with Lunar. The work isn’t particularly dangerous — following large harvesting vehicles around the surface of the moon, doing occasional maintenance, sending in daily progress reports, but loneliness is a big issue. Real-time communication with Earth is impossible, due to a downed satellite, but Sam does have one saving grace. Gerty, the compassionate robot that exists to take care of Sam’s needs, is ever present.

Still, life is pretty boring at the station. One day, however, everything changes. On a routine run to check the harvesters, Sam crashes his rover and, though he’s not hurt too bad, this event promises to turn his world upside down.

I think one of the reasons I was so taken with this film is how much it reminded me of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece also deals with the struggles of isolation and the remoteness of space. Most of my friends look at this film as a chore, and I’ll agree, there are parts that require stamina to watch. The slow, yet mesmerizing, journey of a single space capsule as it makes contact with a space station takes something like 10 minutes and is set to Strauss’ “Blue Danube.”

That’s not exactly the kind of zippy space fantasy people today are used to, but it clearly sets the film in the realm of reality-based science fiction — a genre that well describes “Moon” as well. Both films look at the moon, for example, and see not a setting for giant transforming robots or space battles, but as a cold, remote, silent landscape with secrets to spare.

“Moon” really succeeds in setting the mood, mostly due to the brilliant acting of Sam Rockwell, though director/writer Duncan Jones deserves his share of the credit. The film looks great, mostly taking place inside the sterile whiteness of the moon base, but occasionally venturing outside to the lunar surface, a desolate grey desert surrounded by a sea of brilliant stars. Jones combines a kind of creeping dread with a sense of wonder, a feeling I imagine the actual astronauts who landed on the actual moon really experienced.

Rockwell, a great underrated actor, really brings his all to the role, especially considering he’s in nearly every scene. I’ve liked Sam Rockwell for a long time, but often forget that he has serious chops. His portrayal of Guy, the plucky comic relief from “Galaxy Quest” is one of the funniest parts in that movie, but his dramatic stuff is just as impressive. Often what Rockwell does best is to combine the two styles, giving his humor a haunted, desperate vibe, such as in the also underrated “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.”

His “Moon” portrayal isn’t necessarily funny, but you can sense the humor knocking around, just out of sight.

I realize that this review is almost a decade late, but sometimes being able to go back and find an undiscovered gem is just as much fun as going to a new movie in the theater, especially when that movie “Nutty by Nature.”

Do yourself a favor and seek out “Moon.” You won’t be sorry.

Grade: A

“Moon” is rated R for language, mature scenes, and brief violence.

Chris Jenness ia an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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