d. Duncan Jones / 2009 / UK / 97 mins
Owing much to the best science fiction films of the sixties and seventies (Solaris, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien to name a few), Duncan Jones’s feature debut finds itself at home alongside an impressive roster of sci-fi features. It’s a surprise that it’s not a literary adaptation (in actuality an original screenplay by Jones and Nathan Parker) as it also feels comparable to the short stories by the likes of Asimov. This may be because of its focus on a reasonably small and human scenario with technological development forming the catalyst. The resulting narrative minimalism (practically told through one set and one character) is also indebted to the film’s small $5m budget, but Jones and his designers have done a fantastic job of ensuring the lunar base looks suitably pristine and technologically advanced whilst still allowing it to have the worn and lived-in feel that becomes integral to the plot. With limited resources they have built a world that allows and adds depth to the film’s premise, showing a confidence that could not be improved upon with ten times its meagre finances.
Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a lone astronaut charged with manning the lunar station responsible for harvesting helium-3 from the Moon’s surface. Alone on the base, with only the robotic GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) as company, Sam comes to believe that his contract of three years in isolation is too long for a man to reasonably cope with. Only weeks until his departure and replacement, Sam starts to suffer hallucinations that start a chain reaction of events that result in him questioning his own identity.
As with a few of my other reviews, I’m going to remain tight lipped about the remainder of the plot because it really is worth seeing with as little pre-existing knowledge as possible. Furthermore, it invites repeat viewings, rewarding viewers for careful observation. I’m not without criticism for the film and certainly don’t mean to build too grand an impression of it; as accomplished as it is, it is unlikely to push the boundaries of what cinematic science fiction is capable of, but it should be celebrated for being a small “what if” story, almost perfectly executed.
Jones and Parker’s intelligent script works from strength to strength, focusing on the humanity of Sam and his experience rather than trite action sequences. Rockwell gives what may be his best leading role to date, drawing his character in many separate directions whilst maintaining a great sense of continuity. Spacey’s influence results in both hits and misses, GERTY is given the opportunity to have impact on the story but the decision to cast such a recognisable actor in the role, and then to channel 2001’s HAL robs the AI assistant of its ability to be properly memorable. The last few moments of exposition are also slightly counter productive, allowing for a conventional sense of closure when a more open ended finale would have better suited the film’s sensibilities of uncertainty and isolation.
Moon might not be hailed in years to come as the zenith of the sci-fi genre, but its existence seems to illustrate the lack of intelligent and provocative hard science fiction that the last few years have generated. With all of its production seemingly centred around telling a surprisingly intimate story, this will certainly prove a hard act to follow.