“Zoltar” is a dysfunctional kid who dresses up in ducting materials and fancies himself a spaceman, stranded on Earth, awaiting rescue from his Zoronic buddies. He doesn’t do much except get teased at home and at school, and to show him just how much they love him, the kids at school openly encourage him to jump when he’s on the ledge of the roof. He’s pretty confident he can fly, but by the time he’s ready to show them up, his mother has arrived and makes him come down the long way. You know, the one with stairs. Then she throws away all of his ducting materials, leaving him a naked shell of a Zoltar. The end. Kinda interesting.
Then, I showed yet another Kids in the Hall sketch, this one incredibly topical: Three for the Moon. Here’s the joke. Three guys are drinking on the roof and looking at the moon. Guy #1, he tells a story about the moon spying on him and his former girl. Guy #2, he tells a minimalist fever dream blast poem about the moon and exploding cattle and naturally ends with the word “the”. Guy #3 looks really timid, then asks, “Gee, I wonder who owns that moon?” But it’s OK, because the other two guys think it was the most profound moon statement of them all.
And to answer that question: who owns that moon? we can turn to our feature presentation, directed by the son of David Bowie himself, Duncan Jones. As an interesting trivial aside, yes, David Bowie’s birth name was David Jones, but when he was breaking into the music scene he had to change it because there was already a guy by that name. If you’ll recall, Davey Jones was one of the Monkees. Anyhow Duncan, following in his father’s footsteps, has come up with his own Space Oddity of sorts: the terribly blandly named Moon. But I’ve figured out why it was just called Moon – they left all the good out of the title so they could fit more into the movie. Seriously, very rarely has such a boring sounding film been so good.
We start out by learning that the Moon is more or less owned by Lunar Industries, which has been harvesting Helium-3 from the dark side of the moon (as a matter of fact, it’s all dark) as a new, clean, replenishable energy source. Ah, the glories of fusion! Up on the moon to oversee the operation is Sam Bell. He’s by himself as far as humans go, which I guess kind of makes sense – there’s not really that much to do and it really kind of sucks and is boring up there. He’s probably getting paid big bucks to be separated from his family while on his three-year tour (all sing together now: “A three year tour!”) on the S.S. Moonow, and why would Lunar Industries want to pay multiple people when Sam is sufficient to get the job done?
In fact, as evidence of just how cheap they are, Lunar Industries has left Sam up on the moon for almost his entire three-year tour now without ever fixing the lunar communications satellite. See, because he’s on the dark side of the moon, there’s no direct path to Earth, so a satellite in selenosynchronous orbit is the easiest way to bounce a signal back to the home world. But it’s broken, and Sam is forced to send his communications to a Jovian satellite to bounce back to Earth, making for long delays and ensuring that his little chats with his wife Tess and new daughter Eve are never live. Dude, that sucks.
But it’s OK, because he’s got his exquisite model of his hometown to work on. Plus, he’s got his buddy Gerty – the talking robotic arm that follows him around on a ceiling track and kind of has a HAL-2000 attitude, as if being alone on the moon wasn’t bad enough. And, failing all else, he can always have vivid hallucinations of hot sex with his wife.
Actually, maybe that’s a bit of a problem. And Sam recognizes it, but he’s only got like two weeks left so he’s trying to push through. Anyhow, one of the Helium-3 collectors (stealthily named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) ends up with a full payload, and it’s Sam’s job to go out and retrieve it.
Unfortunately, he manages to see another hallucination and ends up wrecking the rover (right into the harvester!) pretty badly. The rover begins to decompress, he puts on his helmet, and that’s about it for Sam Bell.
Except he wakes up in the infirmary, where Gerty tells him that there’s been an accident. “Do you remember it?” Gerty asks. No, Sam doesn’t remember it. Well, Sam’s being held for observation for a bit. After a while he feels fine, and he wants to go outside again, but Gerty won’t let him.
So he busts up a gas line of some sort, essentially forcing Gerty to let him go outside and fix what needs to be fixed. Of course, that’s not what he wanted, it’s just that the way he was being kept inside despite a clearly full payload on one of the harvesters was really suspicious. Plus, there’s a missing space suit. So does he fix the stuff outside and come back in? No, of course not! He heads out in search of adventure!
And what do you suppose he finds out there? That’s right, he finds Sam Bell, on life support in his suit, in a crashed rover. It’s kinda freaky, but he brings him back in. Well, sure enough, the two Sam Bells (aloof to each other at first) start to figure out what is going on. They’re clones, of course, and they’re being used as moonual labor. They’ve got about a three-year lifespan before breaking down. As you can tell, Sam Bell #1 (or #5, as the case may be) isn’t doing too well.
Anyhow, they’re none too happy about the whole thing, but they hatch a plan, which is, of all things, assisted by Gerty (the compassionate and moral counterpart to HAL-2000, apparently). In brief, there’s a mop-up team coming in to retrieve dying Sam, who was thought to be dead in the rover. This is why newly awoken Sam is not allowed to go outside – so that he won’t catch on. Obviously he’d be allowed to go out and do his job once the mop-up team had mopped up. (The whole “accident” is used when every clone is awakened, to explain why they don’t remember landing – though they appear to have other pretty effectively implanted memories like Tess and Eve so I’m not sure why that’s necessary. Anyway, note that the new Sam’s “accident” was distinct from the old Sam’s accident – just a little ruse to throw us off. I wonder how it works on the second viewing when you actually know what’s going on. Did they accidentally imply any knowledge of the rover crash in the new Sam?)
Well, the mop-up team will expect to find Old Sam out there, and New Sam knows too much and will clearly be terminated, so New Sam takes Old Dying Really Fast Sam back out to the crashed rover, starts a new, sacrificial clone getting awakened, and stashes himself away on a Helium-3 delivery rocket for a ride back to Earth. Voiceovers from various media outlets imply that he makes it back and that the scandal of Lunar Industries’ clone abuse is being investigated. The end.
It’s a really great movie. I found the reveal of the plot twist to not only be well done, but in a nice change, done early in the film. Yes, things are not what they seem (and Sam should feel this way as well!) but we don’t wait two hours to find this out. More like 25 minutes. After that, it becomes a really nice study in the typical Sci-Fi questions: what does it mean to be human, blah, blah, blah. You get the picture. And that’s what takes up most of the film. But it’s very well done – everything except the dark side of the moon thing, and the title. It’s kind of a nice surprise, as if you had gone to a movie called “Bar” and ended up seeing Casablanca.