MOON is the assured debut feature from writer-director Duncan Jones, featuring a stand-out performance from Sam Rockwell as an astronaut suffering from acute loneliness.
Jones wastes no time in establishing the conceit with a pitch-perfect faux-TV-spot. In some indeterminate future, Earth has solved all its energy problems by mining Helium-3 from the dark side of the moon. The operation is mostly automated, but there's a poor schmuck overseer on a three-year contract (Rockwell). In the final weeks before returning to his wife and daughter he suffers an accident and starts, apparently, hallucinating an alternative, clean-cut super-functional Sam. Is his sub-conscious creating a play-mate? Or is their something more sinister afoot?
Showing just how much you can do with a limited budget and some miniature models, Jones perfectly evokes the shabby-futuristic lunar base, complete with HAL-like omniscient robot Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey). I particularly liked the naff touch of having him show emotions through emoticons! But this is truly Rockwell's movie, with assured performances in two very different characters - Sam at the start of the mission - a neat, ambitious, temperamental man: and Sam at the end of the mission - mellowed, messy, apathetic. And while this is, basically, a serious, ideas-based movie, there are moments of humour, or perhaps better put, weirdness, as the two characters face off over a ping-pong table on the road to friendship. The real trick is that by the end of the film, I felt completely emotionally invested in the fate of Sam Bell, and was on the edge of my seat for the final twenty minutes.
I am not a big sci-fi fan, and I can imagine some purists getting cheesed off at the lack of zero-gravity and whatnot. But I think you can take a more high-level view that this movie is sci-fi at its purest. Rather than getting bogged down in super-impressive CGI shots and action sequences, you have sci-fi as it was meant to be - exploring ideas. You also get a film that is steeped in the sci-fi classics and has subtle nods to them while also creating something new and interesting. I can't wait to see what Jones does next, and I'm hoping that the movie's indie status and limited release doesn't bar Rockwell from some acting gongs.
MOON played Sundance, Tribeca and Edinburgh 2009. It opened earlier this summer in the US and Canada. It is currently on release in the UK. It opens in Russia on September 17th; in Australia on October 8th; in the Netherlands on October 15th and in Spain on October 23rd.