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.
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.
I 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.