Monday, March 21, 2011

Science Fiction At Its Best And Least

A lover of science fiction should  check out Duncan Jones's 2009 movie Moon. This movie is pure science fiction without any of the silliness which accompanies most science fiction these days. The plot is very simple: Sam Bell is at the end of his three-year contract with Lunar Industries to harvest helium-3 from the dark side of the moon. The communications setup is damaged, so he can only speak to his family from a time-delay arrangement, bouncing the signal off an antenna on one of the outer planets. The only thing he can communicate with on a real-time basis is GERTY, his Hal-like computer companion. With two weeks to go on his contract, there is an accident at one of the harvesters. Sam goes to investigate, against company instructions, and makes a startling discovery.

No, I'm not going to spoil it, but suffice to say, the movie takes its idea to a very satisfying conclusion. Moon seems to hail from the science fiction of the 1970s, and I don't mean Star Wars. Moon is more in the vein of Silent Running or 2001, A Space Odyssey with its slower pacing and visual style. As well, the special effects are mostly “practical”, which means that they're done with models and miniatures, which gives the movie a much grittier feel than if the effects were done with computers. You can actually see the particles of dust everywhere. That may seem like a minor point, but nothing makes a special effect look real better than good, old-fashioned dirt.

As well, Moon also adheres to something called “science” with it's conventions. What I mean is that you don't get some of the silly scientific inconsistencies that tend to pop up in movies of this genre, like sound in space, space ships acting like they're flying in an atmosphere, or hyperdrives. (Hyperdrives I can accept as a necessary deus ex machina, but when you put them together with all other nonsense, the movie gets silly.) The only place the movie doesn't follow science conventions is in the space base where the main character moves about as if he's on earth with earth's gravity. Due to the low budget of this movie, made for an astounding $5 million dollars, I can forgive this.

If you want to see a movie with astounding special effects of zero gravity, watch Apollo 13. Yet here the word special effect should be used wisely, because the zero-gravity scenes in this movie aren't all effects; they're real weightlessness done on the Vomit Comet, a special airplane designed to briefly create a zero-gravity environment.

The unfortunate problem with Moon is that the language is, at times, rather adult, which makes it inappropriate for middle schoolers.  That said, a high school teacher looking for a good “hard” science fiction movie need look no further. Even better, if you have a Netflix account, it's available for live streaming.

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