I love science fiction movies. Show me pictures of space ships or people in space suits, and I am in. As a science fiction buff, I know a lot about space exploration. This story plays in the undetermined near future. A private company called Lunar Industries has a mining station on the far side of the moon. They are mining Helium-3 from the lunar soil. The product gets shot back to Earth in capsules where it is used for nuclear fusion, which means clean and safe energy in abundance. 75% of the world’s energy is supplied by Lunar Industries this way. Apparently it’s a very profitable business.
The station is almost completely automated. There is only one human astronaut stationed there named Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), who does not actually do any mining work, but performs maintenance and monitoring functions to keep all the big machinery going. His only ‘companion’ is Gerty, a robotic artificial intelligence that roams the station and controls and monitors all functions. Kevin Spacey supplies Gerty’s voice, and the whole experience of listening to Gerty conjures up images of HAL-9000 in the old 2001, A Space Odyssey movie.
In my smart-alecky way, within the first 5 minutes of the movie, I noticed two things blatantly wrong with the story.
First I said that I didn’t understand why in the world any agency or private company would put a single human being in a sealed station on the far side of the moon, for a three-year contract, without any human companion, alone with a creepy artificial intelligence. How expensive could it be to put a cool female there, or a family, to make things more bearable. The station seemed to be well outfitted, comfortable and safe enough. What human would not start hallucinating after 3 years of solitary confinement? It just seemed wrong.
Second I noticed that Sam had to watch pre-recorded videos from his wife, sort of like electronic mail, as if he was in an interstellar spaceship many light-months away from Earth. Why didn’t Lunar Industries install a simple geostatic satellite on the far side of the moon that could be used to relay a comm link to earth? With that they could use the Internet protocol to have a good two-way phone conversation, albeit with a one-second lag, which would be no worse that seeing MSNBC correspondents in Iraq or Europe on live TV. It just seemed odd.
But I was willing to give the story the benefit of the doubt, and I kept watching, trying to find more errors. And I did: Running on a treadmill in the lunar station, or using a jump rope looked like it would on earth. In reality, in 1/6th gravity, running on a treadmill or using a jump rope would look entirely different – but I recognize that it would be forbiddingly expensive to simulate those effects for a movie so I let it go.
It turns out, the plot required, very definitely, that Sam was stationed alone and that there was no two-way comm link. Both of those curiosities were due to the story that unfolded – and I had to chuckle at myself for jumping to conclusions too quickly.
This movie builds as the story unravels, and life in the peaceful space station, all governed by Gerty’s soothing and accommodating voice, is not quite what it seems at first sight. And I will stop here so I do not spoil anything.
For any science fiction buff, this is a must-watch-movie, with unexpected twists and surprises, and good realistic footage of a not so distant future. Where can I apply for the job?