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Moon (#110 of 4)

Review: The Swapper

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Review: The Swapper
Review: The Swapper

The core mechanic of The Swapper is a gun that creates clones of the player, allowing one to transfer his or her consciousness into any of the clones at will. It’s an idea hinted at and sneakily hammered home by ship logs and the hive-minded alien intelligence you encounter across the game. Slowly, it begins to dawn on you that every clone created isn’t just tabula rasa on legs, but a fully formed human being, who may or may not have its own consciousness and knowledge of your goals. Throughout the game, advancement is contingent on sending hundreds, if not thousands, of these clones to harsh, ignominious, bone-crunching death to solve its puzzles, with zero caution thrown to the wind, thus rendering even using the gun an act of cruelty and horror.

As a gameplay mechanic, it’s a fine idea that’s been floating around the headspace of many developers over the years (even the last Mario platformer on the WiiU had a variant on this), and one so simple to craft a game on top of, that you may wonder why no one thought of it before. It makes the fact that the developer is called Facepalm Games feel like an industry-shaming joke. As a piece of the overarching story, however, it’s a factor that allows The Swapper to transcend the sci-fi smorgasbord of ideas that fuel it into something greater, which would be the case even if the puzzles weren’t as frustratingly diabolical as they are.

Poster Lab: Trance

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Poster Lab: <em>Trance</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Trance</em>

A seemingly unapologetic genre vehicle, Trance looks like Danny Boyle’s first film since Sunshine that won’t become awards bait. Instead, the sci-fi thriller shows goals of stylistic crowd-pleasing, to which Boyle is surely no stranger. An art-world tale sprinkled with hypnotherapy themes, Trance gets artfully literal with its initial UK one-sheet, which comes in three character variations.

The leading image, featuring lead star James McAvoy, warns that his art-auctioneer not “be a hero,” which of course promises plenty of derring-do. The other two, which lay the same design over the faces of Rosario Dawson and Vincent Cassell, offer taglines pertaining to personal security (i.e. “Do You Feel Safe?”). The evidence, including the film’s trailer, suggests a flick that blends The Thomas Crown Affair with Inception, following a man involved with art theft as folks try to retrieve memories from his brain.

SXSW 2011: Source Code

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SXSW 2011: <em>Source Code</em>
SXSW 2011: <em>Source Code</em>

Based on Duncan Jones’s first two feature films, Moon and now Source Code, the latter of which had its world premiere Friday night here at SXSW, one could say that Jones has a knack not for putting across breathtakingly original ideas in a breathtakingly original way, but for putting across familiar ideas with enough skill, intelligence, and heart to make the end result seem fresh enough. Moon at first played like basically a cross between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris, right down to its white-dominated production design, until it gradually began to stake out its own distinctive thematic and emotional territory. Source Code similarly begins in a manner that suggests it’s going to be merely a rehash of films ranging from Groundhog Day to The Manchurian Candidate, but the film eventually develops an identity of its own, thanks in part to Ben Ripley’s structurally brilliant script and the committed performances of its cast.

Tribeca Film Festival 2009: Moon

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Tribeca Film Festival 2009: Moon
Tribeca Film Festival 2009: Moon

Forty years after its groundbreaking debut, 2001: A Space Odyssey continues to cast a long shadow, its influence so pervasive that it’s nigh impossible to craft a contemplative sci-fi saga without at least subtly paying homage to Kubrick’s classic. Rather than fleeing that monolith in the genre, director Duncan Jones (a.k.a. Zowie Bowie, son of David) warmly embraces it with Moon, an assured, mesmerizing tale of intergalactic loneliness, self-inquiry, and man’s innate, enduring hunger for life which repeatedly and openly tips its hat to 2001 and its progeny (Solaris, Silent Running).

As a pitch-perfect introductory commercial elucidates, in the near future, Earth’s energy and environmental dilemmas have been solved by Helium 3 solar energy harvested from rocks on the far side of the moon. The station established to accomplish this vital task is manned by one man, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), who at film’s start is two weeks shy of finishing up his three-year tour of duty alone in the echoing base, which boasts the all-white décor of a space station from a ’70s-era movie, is shot by Jones in deliberate, ominous widescreen compositions, and is also populated by Gerty 3000, a robot with the soothing HAL-ish voice of Kevin Spacey and a rotating series of smiley-face emoticons for expressions. When a routine maintenance checkup on a roving harvester goes awry (thanks, in part, to a distracting and gorgeously wrought hallucination of a girl standing amidst a shower of dug-up rubble), Sam awakens in the sick bay, where he discovers—spoilers herein—that the station has a new resident: himself. Except that it’s not exactly himself, as the new Sam is a far healthier, more temperamental mirror image who initially keeps his distance and silence but eventually forms a tentative relationship with the injured Sam, who is desperate to return home to the wife and young daughter he communicates with via taped messages. How two Sams have come to suddenly coexist in this lunar domicile is the prime mystery of Moon’s first third, one that’s unsettling in a manner less horror cinema-scary than existential.