Published by The Massie Twins
Release Date: June 12th, 2009 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Duncan Jones Actors: Sam Rockwell, Benedict Wong, Malcolm Stewart, Dominique McElligott, Kevin Spacey
n engaging sci-fi enigma provides a thought-provoking premise, but too many unanswered questions and too many similarities to superior staples of the genre leave Duncan Jones’ “Moon” merely a platform for compelling performances by Sam Rockwell and… Sam Rockwell. It’s almost a two-man (or maybe one-man) mystery, not too far removed from a darker, more depressing version of “Silent Running.” The creepy, lonely setting (heightened by a brooding score) might have worked more effectively had the film ventured further toward thrills than morality, but it’s nonetheless rare to see a complex and intelligent science-fiction film not bogged down by overwhelming predictability.
With only two weeks left of his three year contract on the moon-based mining compound Sarang, solitary crew member Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) can’t wait to return to his family on Earth. But the mind-numbing isolation and utter detachment from human contact has already taken its toll on the miner, as bizarre visions and troubled dreams disrupt the efficiency of his work. Strange occurrences with communications systems and abnormal behavior from his robotic assistant GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) put Sam further at unease. After a perilous accident with one of the excavation units, he awakens to find that he may no longer be alone in the mining facility…
“Moon” explores the very heart of science-fiction through the most quintessential themes, many of which mirror potentially realistic futures, straying away from the more outlandish subjects. There are no aliens or heavily armed spaceships, no time travel, warp drives, black holes, or dwarfish, wizened green men who tutor in ancient sorcerer’s ways. Instead, the ideas of isolation, loneliness, the value of human life, productivity, solutions to global energy crises, artificial intelligence, and cold corporate business practices are examined. While materially futuristic, the bleak setting is one of the key elements that makes “Moon” pure science-fiction.
It’s hard not to make comparisons to “Silent Running” (a solitary man strikes up conversations with his plants while watering them), “Saturn 3” (itself derivative of numerous other epics while providing a small cast and a tone that leans toward horror), and “2001: A Space Odyssey” (Kevin Spacey’s calmly eerie voice all but duplicates HAL 9000), along with several other less notable precursor sci-fi films. Sam Rockwell steals the show, and considering he’s practically the only cast member, it’s a good thing he’s such a likeable, believable actor. Accompanying his performance is pleasantly foreboding music that perfectly sets the mood, masterfully placed throughout the most spellbinding moments by composer Clint Mansell.
“Moon” is one of those films that relies heavily on a shocking discovery by the only main character, which can’t be discussed in detail without spoiling considerable realizations. While mulling over hallucinations and a mysterious doppelganger, Sam is slow to interrogate and doesn’t overreact like he ought to. His reactions are generally not inquisitive enough. It’s an effort to draw out the plot in the form of a terrifying conspiracy, but the result delays answers to the hundreds of questions forming in the audience’s mind – some are sated but others are left open-ended. In the end, the film engagingly sets a cold, scarily inhumane atmosphere that is interesting but not spectacular.
– The Massie Twins
The moon landing anniversary has been a time of nostalgia, for the glorious missions themselves and for the elegant, speculative and subversive sci-fi classics they inspired on screen in the next decade: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, Dark Star and Silent Running. Movie pundits now routinely affect to despise the all-consuming popular success of Star Wars in this context - but the cerebral, grownup strand of sci-fi was not destroyed.
Two years ago, Danny Boyle released his Conradian deep-space nightmare Sunshine, and now we have Moon, a heartfelt, if self-consciously derivative drama of human loneliness, which alludes to pretty much all of those classic films mentioned above. It is directed by first-time film-maker Duncan Jones, once known as Zowie Bowie, the son of pop legend David.
Moon is set in a future-world that has solved its energy crisis by mining fuel from the moon. Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a guy with an eerie, lighthouse-keeper job. He is the sole human superintendent of the mechanised moon-mine, all alone in the tatty, mussed-up spaces of this lunar station, which have a weird 1970s design, eating his microwaved meals, exercising on the running machine, growing a beard and never reading a book. His only companion, in the traditional manner, is a faintly malign computer-helpmeet with an unreadably ironic voice provided by Kevin Spacey. No other actor could have conjured up the correct droll and enigmatic twang.
Sam is evidently coming to the end of his three-year tour of duty, a spell of solitary confinement that has very nearly driven him round the bend.
But then, on the very brink of freedom, something strange starts happening. He has visions of a dark-haired young woman in his kitchenette-area that freak him out and when he is driving across the gloomy, pitted moon surface in his big-wheeled truck (a lumbering craft pleasingly indebted to Gerry Anderson and Space 1999), he actually sees this vision again. Somehow, Sam gets back to safety on the main station, but thinks he overhears the robot talking to the corporate controllers via a satellite feed about a "problem" with the human employee. Could it be that Sam's trip back to earth might be on hold?
The strength of Moon is also, paradoxically, its weakness: its evocation of loneliness and the vast, silent reaches of outer space. Sam's daily routine is fascinating: three years, three whole years, doing nothing but that. But for the drama to advance, you need Sam to interact with someone - someone apart from a disloyal and mutinous computer, that is - and here is where the weakness lies. Sam does get to talk to someone, but in revealing who that person is, the film tips its hand and reveals its secret very early on. Probably too early.
Rockwell is very good, however, and it is nice to see a major role for a distinctive and engaging performer. As for the director, this smart little picture is a very serviceable launch pad.