Moon

Sam Rockwell times two in Moon

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

 

13 November

Nasa finds “significant” water on the Moon, 2009

On this day in 2009, Nasa reported that it had found “significant” amounts of water on the Moon. The word “significant” is significant, since scientists had already discovered water on the Moon, but it seemed to be locked in mineral grains – so-called magmatic water, which comes from deep within the Moon’s interior. The 13 November announcement reported the findings of an experiment which crashed a 2,200kg rocket stage, followed by a probe containing a near-infrared spectrometer, into a crater at the Moon’s south pole, where it was hoped ice would be kicked up. This is exactly what happened, but it was the amount of water vapour and ice that scientists saw that surprised them – “a dozen two-gallon buckets”. Anthony Colprete, Nasa’s chief scientist for the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite mission elaborated – “We didn’t just find a little bit; we found a significant amount”. It’s an important find because the water can act as a resource for future astronauts, providing drinking water, breathable air (once it’s been broken down) and the components oxygen and hydrogen – “potent rocket fuel”, as Mike Wargo, Nasa’s chief lunar scientist for exploration systems described it.

 

 

Moon (2009, dir: Duncan Jones)

People these days rarely mention that Duncan Jones is David Bowie’s son. When Moon came out Jones, largely an unknown quantity, seemed to be perilously close to treading in dad’s footprints – Bowie’s breakthrough song Space Oddity being all about an isolated spaceman singing about how distant Earth looks and how helpless he feels – “planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do”. Moon, too, is about an isolated spaceman, played by Sam Rockwell, whose long lonely stint on a moonbase is about to come to an end, so he thinks, when a freak accident wakes from the chiller a Sam clone that the original Sam knew nothing about. But is Original Sam even the original Sam? Into this fascinating, twist-driven plot is added the “character” of Sam’s only companion up there, an affectless computer, voiced with full cognisance of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL by Kevin Spacey – in space no one can hear you sneer. The reason why the “he’s Bowie’s son” mentions stopped very shortly after Moon came out is because it’s so good, achieves so much with so little. Jones had clearly watched the Clooney/Soderbergh Solaris and thought “nah, I could do better than that.” And he has – Moon is a lean and sleek piece of elemental, cerebral sci-fi that wears its 2001 looks on its sleeve. And let’s not forget the often slightly underrated Stockwell, who brilliantly differentiates between the different Sams by offering us different grades of human box-freshness (OK, the beard helps too). Like the film itself, beautifully, elegantly done.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • A two-hander sci-fi, one of the hands being just a voice
  • A sci-fi movie loved by sci-fi writers
  • The Bowie-Eno-esque soundtrack by Clint Mansell, formerly of Pop Will Eat Itself
  • Futuristic sci-fi for retro sci-fi fans

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Moon – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

What Is an Aseptic White Room Thriller?

Julian Richings in Cube

 

The simple answer to the question “what is an aseptic white room thriller” (AWRT) is Cube, Vincenzo Natali’s cult Canadian sci-fi movie from 1997. More abstractly, it’s a film that takes place on a single set, usually white though not necessarily. Lighting will be clean, clinical, fairly devoid of shadow. Soundtrack music will be scarce or absent. As for sound design, a background hum of air-conditioning is standard. Clanking, the whooshing of doors, “noises off”.

It’s the plot that is most definitive. In the AWRT no one really knows what’s going on. Typically the film opens with the characters who don’t know each other waking up somewhere far from home, to find that off-screen somewhere, in the bowels of the spaceship they’re on, or in a dark corner of the warehouse they’re in, something is out to get them.

Banding together is the sensible option and it’s usually the person who is most vocally against this course of action who gets it (whatever “it” is) first.

Alien has elements of the Aseptic White Room Thriller, though in the purest manifestation of the form we never get to see the antagonist, the creature. Because the creature is, in effect, other people. And if that’s tickling a memory of Jean-Paul Sartre’s “hell is other people”, then you’ve arrived at the modern source of all Aseptic White Room Thrillers, Sartre’s Huis Clos, a vision of hell in which three people are punished by being locked up with each other for eternity, where they must struggle not to become an object of someone else’s consciousness, the great existential burden.

Put another way, Sartre was a grumpy bugger who didn’t get on with other people.

 

Some examples of the Aseptic White Room Thriller:

 

Cube (1997, dir: Vincenzo Natali)

Seven people of various classes and backgrounds wake up in a hi-tech cube consisting of white room off white room. Periodically reconfiguring itself to lethal effect, the cube forces the initially unco-operative bunch into “pull together or die” survival mode.

Before checking out Cube, it is worth being aware that the acting is very ropy, the script is possibly even worse. But the simplicity of its premise, the starkness of its judgment, the implacability of whatever it is that’s doing whatever it is that it’s doing makes for a highly flavoured, and highly influential piece of sci-fi.

Cube – at Amazon

 

Moon (2009, dir: Duncan Jones)

Moon looks to me as if Duncan Jones, son of David Bowie, was halfway through watching the George Clooney version of Solaris and thought “nah, I could do better than that.” And that’s what he’s done with this brilliantly told story of the lone astronaut (Sam Rockwell) up on the moon who discovers he’s not alone at all.

Kubrick’s 2001 provides some of the look, and the inspiration for the faintly mocking computer, voiced here by Kevin Spacey. And Alien provides the idea of the human very much the subordinate to the company’s systems.

All this wrapped up in a story that like Russian dolls within dolls, or turtles standing on the backs of turtles, goes down and down and down towards infinity.

Moon – at Amazon

 

Antiviral (2012, dir: Brandon Cronenberg)

Brandon, son of David, Cronenberg updates dad’s “body horror” shockers with the story of a lab rat who steals a bit of DNA from the facility where he works. The DNA is from someone rich and famous and the lab where he works sells, among other things, cold sores of the rich and famous. Because in Brandon Cronenberg’s world the great unwashed will do anything to get close to a celebrity, including infecting themselves with their herpes.

Antiviral is a grungy satire rather than a philosophical examination of the friability of the individual, though the sense of isolation, the clinical setting and Cronenberg’s expert fostering of a sense of dread all bathe the movie in the chill glow of the Aseptic White Room Thriller.

Antiviral – at Amazon

 

The Facility (2012, dir: Ian Clark)

A low-budget British chiller about a gaggle of disparate guys and gals who have all signed up for a weekend of drug testing at some remote clinic. Things, obviously, are going to go wrong, and they do.

It’s the way that this bunch of largely self-obsessed young people unknown to each are thrown together that is most reminiscent of Cube, but there’s also the sight of a director taking the very scantest of storylines and making something compelling and tense out of it.

If that doesn’t mark Ian Clark out as someone to watch I don’t know what does.

The Facility – at Amazon

 

Panic Button (2011, dir: Chris Crow)

Four winners of a competition run by a social networking site meet for the first time in the VIP lounge in an airport. Before long they are in a private jet being taken, ostensibly, to a holiday destination. Of course they’re going to no such place.

Shot on one camera by the look of things, then edited on a dying laptop and overdubbed with music seemingly grabbed at random from a fourth-rate music library, Panic Button doesn’t have production values going for it. But it does have purity and simplicity. And throwing a bunch of people together and then subjecting them to psychological torture – which is what the movie does – at 35,000 feet (or however high private jets go) is a nice high-concept touch.

The film falls apart spectacularly in its final reveal – which also knocks back its AWRT rating a bit – but much leg-knotting fun has been had on the way.

Panic Button – at Amazon

 

Pontypool (2008, dir: Bruce McDonald)

A thoroughly gripping low-budget thriller set pretty much in the one room of a radio station, where a former big noise in the DJ world is starting on his first day at a tiny local radio station, some terrible disgrace having busted him down to private.

One room, two people, I think it’s three by the time that Dr Mendez turns up. He’s the frankly bizarre doctor who first voices the theory which might explain all the weirdness that’s been building up as the day has progressed.

Pontypool (the name is Canadian, not Welsh) is one of the more out-there manifestations of the zombie movie, with a high concept so strange that it’s worth waiting for. And its AWRT trappings – a few people, a single room, banding together, a hidden menace – only add to the sense of bated expectation.

Pontypool – at Amazon

 

The Killing Room (2009, dir: Jonathan Liebesman)

There are famous names in this chiller, a loose mix of Cube, the Big Brother TV series, a bit of Bourne, even a hint of the British 1960s spy series The Avengers.

Peter Stormare plays Mother (that’s the Avengers‘ bit), the freakish scientist delegating rookie psychologist Chloe Sevigny to go over the data of experiments which have just finished, experiments which look very like the Stanford Experiment (Wikipedia explanation here) into the inclination of human beings to obey orders.

Except the experiments might not be over, meaning Sevigny is stuck in a big white space while some mad twisted nut pushes her buttons. The Killing Room isn’t perfect but its big reveal, when it comes, is worth hanging on for.

The Killing Room – at Amazon

 

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© Steve Morrissey 2013