New idea in sci-fi shoots for the moon Jan. 25, 2010
By G. Michael Dobbs
An excellent science fiction film, a pretentious zombie movie and a guilty pleasure television treat are all in this week's DVD review column.
Many years ago, I had the opportunity of speaking with Ben Bova at a science fiction event presented by the Springfield Museum of Science. Bova is a highly acclaimed science fiction writer and when I asked him about the current status of science fiction movies, he replied, "Hollywood does to science fiction what Hitler did to Poland."
Bova is an advocate for "hard" science fiction, stories that have more to do with invention and theory than with ray guns, scantily glad heroines and bug-eyed monsters.
I wonder how he would view "Moon," the new science fiction film co-written and directed by Duncan Jones and starring Sam Rockwell.
"Moon" has no ray guns or monsters. It has instead something that science fiction fans usually like to embrace: ideas.
Set in the future, Rockwell plays Sam Bell, the lone employee at a station on the moon. Run by a corporation, Sam's assignment by the company is to send the canisters of hydrogen harvested by automated mining trucks to the earth -- the hydrogen is the planet's new clean fuel.
Sam has signed up for a three-year tour and his only companion is GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), a robot designed to help him on his mission.
Sam is getting a little anxious as he has only two weeks left before returning to earth and to his wife and child, when he has an accident. As he recovers, he realizes there is someone else at the station -- someone who looks just like him.
Is Sam delusional or is something else happening? I don't want to spoil the surprise.
"Moon" is a superbly realized film with an Academy Award winning performance by Rockwell. Jones wanted to give his film a look reminiscent of the science fiction films of the 1980s before the advent of computer graphics. The use of models, rather than CGI, gives the film an impressive "real" look and texture that CGI is hard pressed to create.
I was very impressed with this movie and with Jones' vision. If you enjoy science fiction, you have to check out "Moon."
The zombie film is now a staple among the horror genre -- the results of George Romero's superb zombie films -- but it's clear writers and directors can do only so much with the standard formula of having innocent people turned into flesh-craving monsters by some virus or exposure to a potent chemical.
Instead, what if they are turned into zombies because of something they've heard? What if a word could turn you into a zombie?
That's the basis of "Pontypool," an ambitious but not successful re-thinking of the zombie genre. Set in a small town in Ontario, Stephen McHattie delivers a bravura performance as Grant Mazzy, a former big-time shock jock who is now working at a small station in the middle of nowhere. During a routine winter storm, the station receives reports on groups of people gathering at buildings in town and literally pressing against the walls in such numbers as to break through them.
There are reports as well that these people are repeating words and phrases and, well, this is a zombie movie, eating people.
Mazzy has to try to hold the broadcast and his co-workers together while pondering if something he has said has triggered this phenomenon.
For die-hard horror fans who like their zombie movies "moist," this film will not be among their favorites. There is precious little zombie action, but there is a whole lot of talking about it.
The problem is the plot point about a word causing the zombie transformation is never adequately developed and seems awfully contrived. Despite the film's best intentions, the premise never gets off the ground.
Pawn Stars: Season One
I love the PBS show "Antiques Roadshow" because I learn a lot from it and because I am fascinated by the reactions of people learning that the old doorstop they brought is actually worth $10,000.
Well, "Pawn Stars" is a lot like the PBS show, but is covered in a reality show glaze. Set in a pawnshop in Las Vegas, the show features people who are bringing in a wide variety of items to pawn or sell. The action focuses on learning about the items in questions and then seeing the pawnshop guys coerce the lowest possible sales price from the owner.
There is additional reality show footage about the employees of the shop and their interactions, which I find pretty boring. What is much more of an interest are the items themselves and the work it take to determine if they are genuine and if they have value.
The History Channel show would probably be more appealing to me if there was more time spent on stuff being brought in and less time on staff arguing among themselves.