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Moon (2009) Dir. Duncan Jones 3 August 2009

Posted by jordanfarley in Cinema Review.
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With the state of the film industry as it is it’s easy to forget that at one time Sci-Fi was less about action, spectacle and how many polygons you could cram into a bloated run time and more about ideas, thought-provoking narratives and good old-fashioned imagination. It comes as a welcome relief therefore that after a summer of deplorable big-budget action snooze-fests (the fantastic Star Trek aside) first-time film director Duncan Jones has managed to craft one of the most striking and affecting works of the year so far, on a budget probably akin to the cost of Megan Fox’s make-up trailer.

Sam Rockwell (an actor so good he even came out of Charlie’s Angels untarnished) plays Sam Bell, an astronaut approaching the end of a three year stint on the moon where he is the sole employee working to harvest energy source Helium 3 and ship it back to Earth. Due to a communications breakdown the only contact he has, bar recorded messages, is with computer GERTY (Kevin Spacey) who is there to support Sam in his work and help him any way it can. After experiencing a series of unexplained hallucinations Sam is involved in an accident outside the base only to wake up some time later in the infirmary with GERTY’s help. But all is not well as when Sam next ventures out on to the lunar surface he finds himself, near dead, in the same crashed vehicle. Is it all just an elaborate hallucination? Is Sam mad? Or is there another explanation for this seemingly impossible situation?

To reveal any more of the plot would spoil the few surprises Duncan Jones’ and Nathan Parker’s refreshingly focused and sombre script contains. While it might not take you long to guess at the twist in the tale, like all the best Sci-Fi the twist in Moon isn’t the payoff, the payoff is what the twist means for the protagonist, what it says about human nature and as a comment on one potential future for our society. The script also defies genre conventions remarkably, for example, toying with the evil robot cliché established by HAL in 2001 to the point where you can read anything into GERTY’s ambiguous animated faces (helped no end by the casting of Spacey in the role who, after Se7en, could sound sinister reading a nursery rhyme). The film genuinely has something to say about what it means to be human and is perhaps the first Sci-Fi since The Fountain which has quite this much emotional weight behind it.

Rockwell’s performance is nothing less than a tour-de-force. There aren’t many actors who could keep you engaged for 97 minutes, single-handedly, with so much ease. Not only is he in every shot but he’s the only human character onscreen for more than a minute and he’s effectively playing two roles, so different are the two Sams. Their actions are entirely understandable at all times despite the fact neither we, nor they, have a clue what’s going on for a good 80 minutes, and brilliantly once you know the twist you will understand, and appreciate so much more, why the two Sams act in such vastly different ways.

Jones’ direction is assured, subtle and takes all the right kind of inspiration from the likes of 2001 and Tarkovsky’s Solaris, (visually rather than thematically where it shares much more in common with Silent Running and ‘70s conspiracy thrillers like Soylent Green). A word must also go to Clint Mansell’s note perfect score which somehow manages to convey the quirky fun of being a farmer on the moon in the opening scenes before transforming into the haunting and emotionally devastating drive behind the film’s closing moments.

Although it’s not the best Sci-Fi of the year (that honour still has to go to Star Trek) what the team behind Moon have managed to achieve is nothing less than astounding given its obvious limitations. Despite reaching number eight in the UK charts last week (a huge success for this type of film in the middle of summer) it’s likely Moon will find its audience on DVD and Blu-ray, but I urge you to see it on the big screen while you can. Jones has made the best possible case for marking him up as a director to keep a very close eye on in the future.

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