Moon Review

Published 5 years ago by , Updated June 11th, 2009 at 1:43 pm,

Short version: Moon is an interesting, well-acted film that takes what could have been cliched sci-fi conventions and explores them from a fresh angle.

moon review Moon Review
Screen Rant reviews Moon

Moon is the debut feature film by writer/director Duncan Jones. The film stars Sam Rockwell, the voice of Kevin Spacey and… actually just those two, really. The film is set on the lunar base Selene in a future where Helium 3, a gas mined from the moon’s surface, holds the key to reversing Earth’s energy crisis.

Rockwell plays Sam Bell, the one-man team assigned to Selene on a three-year contract. Bell’s primary job is waiting around days on end for one of the corporation’s three automated lunar harvesters to register a full Helium 3 load, which he then extracts and jettisons to Earth on a small space transport.

Moon opens as Bell is coming to the end of his three-year term. He’s bored, isolated, lonely and desperately aching to be reunited with his wife and the daughter he never met back on Earth. Bell’s only “friend” on the station is GERTY (voice of Spacey), an artificial intelligence system charged with watching over Sam and keeping him pacified and focused on his job.

As his time on the station comes to a close, Sam starts feeling strange. He starts seeing things, feeling odd pangs of emotion, and even some physical pain. One day, while out on a routine Helium 3 extraction, Sam suffers a terrible accident that prompts the corporation to initiate a horrifying contingency plan, all but forgetting about Sam even as his life hangs in the balance.

I’ll stop there. I’ve been debating for some time about how much of the plot of Moon I should reveal. In this case, it’s hard to judge where the line between spoilers and non-spoilers falls. I will say this: What you think is going to be Moon‘s eleventh-hour plot twist is actually a first-half-hour plot twist. Conventions that other sci-fi films try to use as a climatic gimmick, Moon uses as a jumping-off point. Already that catapults the film far ahead of other sci-fi movies, landing it in a realm of originality all its own. And, to its credit, Moon does a pretty good job building on that fresh terrain.

The real standout in this film is Sam Rockwell. Those familiar with some of Rockwell’s back catalog (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Matchstick Men, Choke) know what a dangerously underrated actor he is. In Moon, Rockwell is (essentially) a one-man show: He gets up on screen and for 97 minutes takes his character through every conceivable emotion you could ever be asked to portray at an acting workshop. And not only is the performance funny, sad, freaky, thought-provoking and totally believable, it’s also very engaging. It’s a hard thing for one actor to hold an audience’s interest for a whole movie (Tom Hanks got an Oscar nom for it), yet every time I thought I knew what Sam Bell was going to do next, I was surprised. A great performance.

moon gerty Moon ReviewI also really enjoyed the “character” of GERTY. It’s essentially Kevin Spacey’s voice (which is somehow simultaneously soothing and slightly unnerving) and a robotic arm with a small monitor screen displaying an emoticon. And yet somehow, despite his monotone dialogue and programmed responses, GERTY nearly steals every scene he’s in and is arguably the most “human” character in the film. Some people might be tempted to say, “Dude, it’s HAL from 2001,” but in the end, I think GERTY will win most viewers over.

With Moon, writer-director Duncan Jones (who is David Bowie’s son, BTW) has definitely managed to achieve the nearly impossible: Breaking free of sci-fi conventions to create something new and unique, and yet oddly familiar. Like with GERTY, there were a couple of times during the movie I thought it was going to become a carbon-copy of this or that famous sci-fi film – but every time I started to feel that way, Jones managed to veer things just far enough off the beaten path to keep Moon feeling refreshingly interesting. Jones, I suspect, will become a very accomplished sci-fi director if he chooses to stay with the genre.

The only real criticism I have with this film is the story. The characters are well rendered, the plot never really gets lost in its own convolutions, and the major themes (even the implied ones) are very, very, interesting to think about. Moon is one of those movies you finish seeing and immediatly want to see again, knowing what you know now.

Tension is the real weak point of the story. Without giving too much away, lets just say that the nature of the plot makes it hard for the story to have any real sense of narrative or thematic tension. The ending of the film is primarily a thematic payoff, one that could be hard for some viewers to relate to on a personal or emotional level. Basically the film is like watching skilled philosophers (that would be Moon co-writers Jones and Nathan Parker) positing a philosophical point and calling that posited point a “climax.” Sure, what’s being posited may be interesting, but how many people are going to care?

In the end, though Moon may fall short of stirring the heart, it sure does stir the intellect. And let’s face it: Intellectual stimulation is pretty much what sci-fi fans are all about. Moon is a high point for the genre, and Douglas Jones and Sam Rockwell deserve a lot of the credit for taking it into orbit.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5
(Excellent)

TAGS: 4 star movies, moon

54 Comments

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  1. Yeah, I agree with Kofi. This is a difficult film from a spoiler standpoint, but I agreed with your overall take on the quality of the film. Rockwell knocks one out of the park IMO. Here’s my review from a few weeks ago if interested.

    http://thefilmnest.com/2009/06/moon-review/

    The Rake

  2. Does anyone know when this opens nationwide? I’ve seen a trailer here, but no specific date.

  3. @wes
    Vic listed a link on page 1. It opens July 10th where I live.

  4. Be nice when more ppl see this so we can discuss.

  5. Yeah, I’ve got July 10′th as well.

  6. @wes

    Here it is again:

    http://www.sonypictures.com/classics/moon/dates.html

    Vic

  7. Wow, that’s weird, all of the earlier release dates are all in “certain” states. I don’t even think it’s by population since states like Florida and Texas have large population numbers too, yet they are focusing on MA, IL, CA, NY only… Hm…

    In order of population I think it goes CA, TX, NY, FL, IL… MA is like 13th, so how do they determine where to release the film first? Why so specific with the states? Is there like a rule book somewhere that states what states get what first? I think I’m just going to wait for the rental…

  8. what’s the point of releasing a movie that can’t even be seen? I live in philly and haven’t been able to find it anywhere. how weak is that?

  9. I will probably catch this on demand

  10. I can only assume Duncan Jones’ original outline to his producer read something like: “Start with 2001, add a half cup Silent Running, a pint Wall•E, and a pinch of Alien. Whisk until The Sixth Day starts to take form then just keep pouring in Solaris until you hit the 90 minute mark. (And if you’re feeling particularly festive, you can even garnish it with a single leaf of Midnight Cowboy.)”

    Read the full review at:
    http://cfilmc.wordpress.com/2009/07/11/moon/

  11. Paul, I think you missed the overall point of “Moon”.
    It wasn’t so much the conspriacy was delt with half way through it was the fact that the characters worked together to expose the truth…
    As they did more of the reality of there situation became clear…
    The last 10 minutes had huge ramifications of you look deep enough.

  12. Ah!!!
    “If you look deep enough”

  13. The nearest theater showing this is in Reading, PA, over 150 miles away. DRAT!

  14. Kahless
    what theater are you speaking of in Reading because I am somewhat close to there and haven’t been able to find Moon anywhere.

  15. Finally just saw Moon and thought it was great. An outstanding job by Duncan Jones and a memorable performance by Sam Rockwell. Go see it.

  16. Foe me over all I really liked Moon, and is right up there with some of my favourite hard SF movies like GATTACA, but I found it rather Science-light, which will be fine for some people, but I actually like a little Science in my Fiction.
    I loved GERTY, and the way it was played, dutifully fulfilling its programming, and as the counterpoint to programming people too.
    I thought they could have showed why Sam was actually there, to do the jobs the machines couldn’t, they really only showed him retrieving the H3 from the miner, and only hinted at his tech ability when he wanted to sabotage the base, just enough to be let outside.

    Now if only this comes out to NZ so I can go see it at the cinema 8)

  17. There’s enough plot holes to drive a lunar buggy through it.

    I had high hopes for this one, but from the beginning the extravagance of the plot and the available technology in this story made me ask why at almost every turn.

    I guess the biggest illogical aspect of the story is that multi-trillion dollar corporation would build a computer companion for the astronaut which doesnt have rigid security protocols to keep the guy from finding out the truth. He simply asks the computer and it spills it’s beans. Not likely given the surrounding circumstances of the plot.

  18. it's called Sarang, not Selene

  19. it's called Sarang, not Selene

  20. This is an excellent review.

    I just watched this movie recently and was stunned at the depth of the character and how well Sam Rockwell carried it off. Coupled with the superbly understated soundtrack and Kevin Spacey’s amazing “detached” voice, it pays homage to many movies, by the writers own admission.

    How the hell did end up feeling emotional about GERTY? It certainly is a self-aware movie. The HAL similarities are striking. Just when you think you’ve figured out the bad robot scenario, things slide seamlessly into something unexpected. I loved the little touch when Sam removed the post-it note from his rear. I took it as a mark of respect for how Sam saw GERTY as something more than just a machine. I suspect this movie is more about the exploration of the human psyche within a futuristic scenario rather than about the tech, which I think “2001″ lacked. Maybe I read too much into it. Meh.

    Definitely one to watch for serious Sci-fi freaks.

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