Monday, August 03, 2009


Some of you may be wondering why this review is so light on Simpsons references or F-bombs. Well, I originally submitted it to a website, but thanks to my crack eye for detail, I missed that they already had a review of the same film. Oops. Still, might as well post it up here. I think it reads fairly well overall, aside from the fairly lame Duncan Jones-David Bowie-Major Tom cliche in the last paragraph, but hey, I guess if everybody didn't use them, they wouldn't be cliches.


From its first 10 minutes, Moon seems like a pastiche of elements from other science-fiction films. The astronaut as a worker, not a noble explorer, harkens back to the original Alien. Gerty, the helpful space station computer that assists the protagonist, is a clear nod to 2001's HAL 9000. When Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) begins to hallucinate early in the film, you wonder if the audience is going to see a re-imagined version of Solaris.

But don't let some of these familiar tropes fool you into thinking that Moon is just a knockoff of the classics. Indeed, Duncan Jones' film is somewhat unique within the sci-fi genre since it both sets up its mysterious premise and manages to answer it in a logical and satisfying way. There won't be leaving the theatre asking your friends "what did that mean?" or picking at plot holes. Moon is as airtight as...well, a spacesuit.

The movie is set in a near-future period where the world's energy problems have largely been solved due to a process for mining and harvesting moon rocks for Helium-3, and converting it into power back on Earth. Lunar Industries is the lead company behind this project, and Bell is its lead employee, working on a three-year contract to oversee the mining and live in solitude on a space station. Sam works on his model wooden town, takes care of his plants and passes the days with the amiable Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey) as his only company.

Sam seems proud of his work, but he is eager to return to Earth to see his wife (Dominique McElligott) and infant daughter, whom he has only been able to be in contact with via taped video messages. With just two weeks to go on his tour of duty, however, Sam begins feeling out of sorts, and begins to see hallucinations of a woman both inside and outside the station.

This last vision of the woman on the moon's surface distracts Sam when he is driving towards one of the harvesters, and as a result he crashes his lunar rover. He wakes up a few days later in the station infirmary, as Gerty explains that he needs to rest and that a repair crew is on the way to the moon to fix the harvesting equipment.

Sam manages to recover enough to insist that he fix the harvester himself, and sneaks out of the station towards the wreck. Upon arriving at the crashed lunar rover, he finds inside an injured, unconscious man in a spacesuit. The injured party is...Sam Bell.

At this point, Moon's invocations of other science-fiction movies take on a double meaning. Actually, everything takes on a double meaning -- duality and what 'originality' really means become the film's main focuses.

Jones is very aware that the audience is, for instance, making a Gerty-HAL connection and plays with our expectation of the other shoe to drop in terms of Gerty's relationship to Sam really entails. As for the sci-fi staple of a lone man on a solitary mission, when you think about it, it's kinda strange that a company would entrust such an important mission to just one guy. If you believed they put a man on the moon...

As mentioned, things tie up very neatly plotwise, but almost so much so that you wish there was a bit of mystery left on the table. The movie's last 15 minutes become just a bit predictable as you can see the logical conclusion in sight, but still, you can hardly fault a movie for delivering what it promises. The mystery woman in Sam's hallucinations is never clearly identified (his wife?), but that's probably the only major question left unanswered.

Rockwell is one of those underrated actors who consistently delivers quality performances time in and time out. In Moon, he gets a rare leading role to sink his teeth into and show why he should probably be a bigger star than he is. The film uses camera tricks, editing and costuming to keep things straight between the two Sams, but the biggest tool at Moon's disposal is Rockwell himself. He makes the two Sams distinctly separate, and yet both are equally distinct as the Sam Bell we've come to know from the first third of the movie.

Rockwell's acting is (excellent production values and tight script aside) what keeps Moon afloat, given that the film is basically a one-man show. Like Tom Hanks in the middle section of Cast Away, Rockwell is given the task of keeping the audience's interest by himself for virtually the entire 97 minutes. True, Spacey gives Gerty more personality than, say, Wilson the Volleyball, but there is only so much that the two-time Oscar winner can do with a machine's dry responses.

There are moments near the movie's climax when Gerty does seem to show actual emotion beyond the happy/sad/confused faces on its viewscreen, as it seems to find a loophole in its programming. But even in that case, Gerty seems so matter-of-fact that you almost wonder if this behavior is, in fact, part of its programming, which may add another interesting level to the story.

The overall look and feel of the film is classic 'sci-fi sterile.' The Lunar Industries base ranks about an 0.7 on the Kubrick scale of an environment that is wide-open, yet claustrophobic at the same time. Moon is hardly working with a big budget, but there is never a moment when your immersion in the story's reality is broken by a weak green-screen backdrop or anything like that. The lunar surface is so realistically created that, when Sam gets into his initial accident, you're terrified for him in spite of the fact that it's only 15 minutes into the movie and nothing bad could happen to the hero -- could it?

This is Jones' first feature film, and maybe a story about a disillusioned space explorer was in his blood. Jones is the son of David Bowie, who was writing about space oddities before young Duncan was even born. Sam Bell is no Major Tom, but just as his father's famous spaceman appeared in several songs over the years, Jones is apparently planning to make a trilogy about the Moon universe. The prospect of more intelligent, original films such as this is enough to put a smiley face on anyone's monitor.

No comments: