It’s a big ball of cheese in the sky. What would happen, wondered first-time feature director Duncan Jones, if Aretha Franklin lived on it? She’d probably eat it all, he quickly concluded. So he put Sam Rockwell up there instead. You know, just to see what would happen.
As it turns out, the result was really quite something.
Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, an astronaut working in about as remote a place as you can imagine – a tiny, one-man mining outpost on the dark side of the moon.
He’s been there for 3 years, away from his wife and child, entirely alone except for his robotic assistant GERTY (Kevin Spacey) and his own thoughts. His only communication with his home planet comes via pre-recorded satellite messages, received sporadically via a faulty comms link-up.
A pretty bleak way to earn a living. Let’s hope the money’s good.
And so our lonely protagonist spends his days coordinating and maintaining the ‘helium 3’ mining harvesters which scour the vast surface of the moon. It is on one such day, barely two weeks away from his trip home, while out repairing a fault on one of these machines, that Sam meets with an accident and only barely survives.
Waking up dazed back at the mining outpost, things take a rather bizarre turn as he discovers that he is no longer totally alone. He finds a perfect double version of himself, a doppelganger, if you will, inhabiting the station with him. Spooky.
It seems to me that what we have here is a science fiction movie. Not a film set in space with aliens and warp-drives and lasers and magic bloody powers. An actual work of science fiction. By this I mean (and I’m more than prepared to state that I am by no means an authority here) a film that imagines a future existence which actually raises questions about mankind and, for want of a better, less poncey expression, ‘the human condition’. Sam’s isolated existence, the necessity of his job for Earth’s survival (for ‘helium 3’ is a new, super-green source of energy), the way in which he is treated by his employers, not to mention the film’s big plot revelations, are all used to great effect by director Duncan Jones to provide us with some fascinating and actually quite intimidating existential and moral posers.
Besides the deeply philosophical script, there’s one other aspect of this film which really makes it stand out, and that’s the absolutely superb turn put on by Sam Rockwell. Considering that this is a man who has spent significant parts of his recent career lending his voice to a talking guinea pig (‘G-Force’), and whose only other sci-fi output of note is as a two-headed narcissistic space pirate (‘Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’), the sheer scale and subtlety of his performance here is pretty mindblowing.
Rockwell is on screen for almost the entire length of the movie (97 minutes), and has to spend an awful lot of that time acting opposite ‘himself’. Not an easy task, but one which Rockwell seems to have no trouble tackling, creating an entirely believable two-hander entirely on his own, backed up ably by a suitably spooky-voiced, HAL-like Kevin Spacey as GERTY, his robotic assistant-slash-butler.
Simply put, ‘Moon’ is a superb film. Eerie, contemplative and minimalist, it’s a real “thinker”, and if you’re anything like me you’ll be contemplating your own navel for days after watching it.
You can’t talk about the presentation of this film without giving a mention to the production design. Rather than plumping for the now fairly standard CG-driven approach, Jones and his team opted to hark back to the glory days of sci-fi, making extensive use of models for many of the special effects and exterior shots throughout the film.
Being rather sceptical of the movie industry’s current trend for over-use of CGI, I found myself to be a huge fan of this approach. The models, expertly constructed and superbly shot and lit, possess a solidity often lacking from common-or-garden CG creations. ‘Moon’ benefits hugely from this retro style, which is repeated in the minimalist set design, complementing the films bleak, isolated feel perfectly.
Where CG is used, it’s used in the best possible way – subtly, so that we don’t even notice. The best example of this is in the compositing of Sam Rockwell’s dual performances, as he often appears on screen in both incarnations simultaneously, interacting seamlessly with his alter ego.
Looking at the transfer, it’s crisp and clear with minimal grain and, all-important for a sci-fi movie, some nice crunchy blacks. The level of detail is excellent, with the moon’s bleak landscapes and Rockwell’s multi-faceted performance superbly rendered. Presented for us in 2.40:1 aspect ratio, it’s a hair’s breadth away from the original.
A great job all round.
Vibrations-wise, ‘Moon’ comes up trumps again, with a 5.1 DTS-HD track to rival many of its higher-budgeted rivals.
Effects are used subtly throughout, and silence is employed often to emphasise the sense of loneliness felt by our main character. It’s all quite understated, which is obviously very much in keeping with the style of this film. However, when the soundtrack does have stuff to do, such as during the ‘harvester crash’ scene, it reveals itself to be a well thought out, well mixed effort.
Just as understated is Clint Mansell’s haunting score. Written largely for piano, it sets the mood of the film extremely well.
So, all in all, it’s a solid, subtle and entirely suitable set of vibrations. Two thumbs up.
The overall key remains low as we look over the cover art for ‘Moon’. Almost entirely black, with Sam Rockwell standing within an intriguing concentric circle motif, it’s simple and retro, but it works rather well.
It just goes to show that, with stuff like this, less is often more, and you don’t need ‘lenticular sleeves’ or 3D holographic exploding images to make a cover design look good.
On the disc itself there’s a tasty array of extras, including the usual commentaries and ‘Making Of’, as well as a short film made by Jones as a means of persuading people to back this project, his debut feature.
Most notable, though, are the Q&A sessions included, one of which was recorded at Sundance, while the other was shot after a screening at the NASA Science Centre. This latter session makes for an interesting and unusual watch, largely because the director’s not being grilled by film journo-types.
The big letdown here is the sad news that none of these delightful extras are BR exclusive. Now, I’m sure I’m not alone here in saying that as a Blu-ray fan I didn’t shell out all those extra hard-earned Benjamins to be getting fed the same stuff as the cattle down in SD-class, so it’s pretty frustrating when this happens. Minus one star for that, I’m afraid.
Although by no means a fully paid-up member of the sci-fi fan club, I am rather partial to good bit of space-based nonsense.
Oddly enough I have a friend who, for reasons he is unable to articulate intelligibly, “absolutely f***ing hates” space. Not just as a setting for a feature film, but the actual place. He’s never been, I often point out, so he’s really got no idea what he’s talking about. Perhaps it wronged him in a former life or something.
Anyway, I digress.
From camp space opera (‘Star Wars’ being an obvious example), through crazy-bonkers action (‘Aliens’, ‘Starship Troopers’) to psychological drama (‘Solaris’), if it’s got space in it somewhere, I’ll give it a watch and probably enjoy it on one level or another.
When put like that, it sounds rather shallow and probably a bit weird to just say “if it’s got space in it”, largely because what makes a good sci-fi flick is usually not the fact that it’s set in space. Indeed, there are plenty of films of that genre that don’t leave the confines of this planet at all.
But what I like about space as a setting is how unknown it is. It’s like a vast blank canvas. A filmmaker can use it any way they want; they can ask questions, conjure up outlandish hypotheticals, create a sense of isolation, a sense of adventure and mystery, a feeling of menace, of openness, of pretty much anything and everything, and absolutely none of these ideas would seem at odds with the setting.
With ‘Moon’, Duncan Jones has used the setting superbly. The most remarkable thing about this entirely remarkable film is its tangible atmosphere of loneliness and isolation, and it is Jones’ skilful exploitation of his chosen setting that lies at the heart of that atmosphere. Mix in Rockwell’s absolute knock-out performance and you’ve got a winner.
So, in summary, I whole heartedly recommend that you wrap your peepers around this movie at the next available opportunity. But if you’re one of those special people who hates space and everything it stands for, then I’d probably look elsewhere.
Verdict: 4/5 – “BUY”