Thursday 11th March 2010

I saw Moon last night, and I can’t really decide what I think about it. Before I go further there are some spoilers here, so don’t read if you don’t want them.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the film but bits felt iffy and I can’t completely put my finger on why. I think it might be down to some of the most glaring factual errors you could think of. For instance, Moon gravity is a sixth of Earth gravity, folks! For some reason, whenever the characters were outside the base they moved much slower, as you’d expect them to in low gravity. But inside they moved normally. Hell there was a game of table tennis at one point, which struck me as particularly implausible. And also, they’ve somehow found a way to increase the speed of light, given the instantaneous communication between the Earth and the Moon.

It probably sounds like I’m nitpicking, but I don’t think I am. For a film called “Moon”, you would expect the film makers to have grappled with some of the fundamental physics of the place, and at least have come up with a reason why they choose to ignore them.

Regardless of that, it’s still a pretty enjoyable film and I really like that it’s a proper, pukka, science fiction film. Far too often sci fi just means “set in space”, as opposed to what sci-fi actually means; stories based around some sort of scientific “what if?” – for instance, Star Wars isn’t really sci fi, its just set in space. Of course, it’s another thing completely to say how good a SF film Moon is. Given that it ignores fundamentals like gravity, you could argue possibly not…

Anyway, I enjoyed it. But then I should, because it steals elements from quite a lot of other Science Fiction. It takes bits from 2001 (sentient uber-computer – Kevin Spacey plays the part, and you can tell that his brief was “sound like HAL!”), Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (implanting fake memories), The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress (using a catapult to sneak people to Earth, amongst other things), a sort-of allusion to Asimov and the Laws of Robotics. I’m sure I’ve read a short story by Clarke too about clones which the film echoes quite a lot, but I can’t be bothered to look through the books to find one.

It sounds like I’m being negative, but I did enjoy it and it’s well worth watching. Frankly it’s a much better film than most of the trite that gets released (mentioning no Avatars). The story may not be groundbreaking but it’s watchable, and other things more than make up for it. It’s rather nicely shot, especially the scenes which are set outside. And I also think Sam Rockwell is pretty good too as the main character(s). Kevin Spacey is ok as the computer, but it felt like he was trying to be HAL and failing – he didn’t quite get the pure emotionless tone that Douglas Rain managed in 2001. And by the way if anyone hasn’t seen 2001, you really should because (except for the first bit with the apes) it’s stunning. But then Kubrick was a great director and Clarke a great writer, so it’d be odd if it weren’t.

I think though that the best thing about the film is the soundtrack. It suits the film really well, helps the pacing and overal “feel” of the film, but it’s also just really good music. At the end I actually left the end credits run, because I was enjoying the music that was playing. It’s on Spotify so I suggest you all go listen now.

An interesting point came out of watching this. The other day I was having a discussion with a housemate about how you’d build on the moon, and specifically we were talking about concrete. We couldn’t decide whether the curing reaction needs air to work (I’m not sure it does, looking at it now), but irrespective of that you’d need to ship materials up there, which takes a lot of energy. When I was reading about this film though I ran into an article on Lunarcrete, which uses stuff found on the Moon to make a concrete-like material. I think they’ve even suggested using lunar glass as reinforcement (glass has a ludicrously high tensile strength. Concrete has very little, so thats why reinforcement is used), which is pretty cool. Apparently Lunarcrete isn’t airtight though, which is a fairly glaring flaw. And It also requires a lot of energy to produce, which is another issue. I presume the energy cost is still lower though than transporting a similar amount of concrete to the Moon.

Personally I think I’d just build underground, but then that probably also requires a lot of energy.

Posted at 3:06 am | Posted In: Engineering Tagged:



Friday 19th March 2010, 3:38 pm

I really enjoyed moon, and faster-than-light comms and artificial gravity aren’t enormous faux pas considering the film. I think adding in the scientific realism would have come at a cost to the entertainment value of the film – a worthy sacrifice, in my opinion.

As for building on the moon, if you can bring enough stuff to build yourself a decent solar grid you’ll have the energy to build the lunarcrete, which you can make airtight with glass until you’ve got the infrastructure to use something less brittle. Were I to build on the moon, solar cells built and maintained out of a large lander module would be how I’d start, with infrastructure to follow. Costly, yes, but any endeavour on the moon will be. As for the cabling to carry the electric you’re generating, depending on the size of your grid, I’m guessing (emphasis on the guessing, don’t know enough about the reasons that microwave dish energy transfer is inefficient) that would be more weight-efficient to transfer it as microwave beams considering the lack of atmosphere. Less cost-efficient, but cabling is weighty so hmm. Don’t know how cold the moon is, might be possible to have uninsulated superconductors. You’ll know more about how advanced the tech is at present than I will I’d imagine.

I could write about hypotheses all day. I’ll stop now.


Sunday 21st March 2010, 6:11 pm

I watched it again after I wrote this entry, and I have to say I was possibly a bit harsh on it first time round. Very good film, and amazing that it only cost $5 million.

Cabling would probably be more efficient anyway. The greater the transmission losses the more generating equipment you have to transport, which is probly more expensive than just shipping cable. Also with solar cells, you’d need of batteries because the lunar night lasts for like 15 days. Eventually a nuclear reactor would seem sensible, but that’d be a long-term project.

I’d still suggest it’d be better to build underground. Much easier to construct, and also provides more protection from things like radiation or vacuum, whilst also providing some insulation for heat. With lunarcrete, I dunno if it’d make sense to use glass for airtightness. Probably easier to develop some sort of sealant to spread on the wall.

I kinda wish I was thinking this a year ago, cos it would’ve made for a pretty interesting dissertation topic for this year. Sigh. Also I find it insane that no-one is seriously planning to do any of this. Twas probably the only sane thing Bush did whilst in office, but Obama cancelled it. Double sigh.


Friday 9th April 2010, 2:32 pm

I watched Moon the other day and I thought it was excellent. I was aware that there were problems with the gravity inside the base and obviously the faster-than-light comms, but it didn’t seem to matter because the storyline was compelling and interesting and it was in all a fantastic film and, as you say, sci fi in the truest sense of hte word.


Saturday 10th April 2010, 1:22 am

I’m glad you liked it – desipite the somewhat negative tone of bits of this post, I think it’s an absolute gem of a movie. Something I didn’t mention in the post was that I particularly enjoyed the special effects. In a hell of a lot of movies made at the moment, CGI is used a ridiculous amount. And it looks good, but it also looks fake. Somehow things look too clean, too perfect to be real. I mentioned it in the post I wrote about Avatar, but when I watch old films like Das Boot or the original Star Wars trilogy or whatever, in my opinion the effects look so much more realistic because those films were shot using models. That means that they have some “filmic” characteristic which means that although sometimes it’s obvious to the audience that they’re looking at a model, it’s more immersive because it feels more real than some completely artificial thing.

This was one of my major criticisms of Avatar. The world looked good, very good. But it also looked completely artificial – because it was! To me, there was no real “connection” to the world, and therefore to the characters that reside in that world. Of course this was amplified in Avatar by the fact that many of the characters were also artificial…

One of the things I loved about Moon though was that the shots out on the Lunar surface looked absolutely sublime. There’s a fantastic feel to those scenes – they felt real. The reason: the film-makers used models supplemented by CGI. These shots looked absolutely stunning and were completely immersive, without needing gimmickery. And the effects supplemented the story, rather than merely being the story. I daresay this film – with its $5million budget – will look much less dated in 5, 10, 20 years than Avatar – with its $300million budget.

It sounds like I’m picking on Avatar a lot, and I guess I am because it’s hideously overrated. But it’s also ostensibly a film with science-fiction themes, released at a similar time. I really wish more films were made like Moon, rather than like Avatar. Can you tell? :P


Thursday 15th April 2010, 11:03 am

See, it’s films like Moon which make me believe that 3D will never be more than just a gimmick – or rather, not for a long time if ever. Because it doesn’t *matter* that Moon is not 3D and watching Avatar in 2D would just be boring. But then they said motor cars would never take off.

But no, I completely agree with your points on both Avatar and Moon. Although that said although Avatar wasn’t a great film in terms of originality of plot or whatever, the world-building and the imagination and the look of hte thing were all spectacular and I thought it was an amazing film to see in 3D in the cinema. I don’t think I’d bother watching it outside of that though because like you said there was less connection to the characters and you cared less.

And yes. Avatar will date more than Moon. Moon could easily have been made at the same time as 2001 and no-one thinks 2001 is any the worse for being old, do they?


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