July 30 2009 at 7:16 am (Cinema reviews)

moon-poster-2In a typical summer filled with whiz-bang effects and louder-than-hell explosions, it’s comforting to know that Moon exists. Harking back to the heady days when serious sci-fi was young and hadn’t yet been tarnished by the garish CGI brush, it’s a film that makes you think and cry, rather than punch the air.

In the not-too-distant future, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) works for Lunar Industries, which mines for Helium-3, a substance found on the moon’s surface which provides efficient and plentiful fuel for Earth. Nearing the end of his lonely three-year stint on a lunar space station with only computer GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) for company, Sam is eager to get home to his wife and child. But after an accident, he wakes to find that he is not alone and he begins to learn some ugly truths about himself.

Being the son of space child David Bowie seems to have inspired director Duncan Jones (born Zowie Bowie – even his adopted name is much more low key than you’d expect) and has given him a charmingly offbeat style. By setting the film almost entirely in a space station, with clinical white sets that have been dirtied by moon dust, Jones makes it look like an extended episode from series two of Red Dwarf, and that can only be a good thing. The exterior shots are done with models and the moon’s surface looks like it was built by a particularly talented Blue Peter presenter. CGI is inconspicuous and used sparingly. It is the rarest of things: a contemporary low-budget science fiction film.

Into this Michel Gondry-esque arena steps Sam Rockwell, in a double performance (surely it cannot be giving too much away to reveal that the mysterious stranger is himself) that should see him finally rise from propping up indie films to mainstream lead success. His fantastic performances once again mirror Red Dwarf: the first Sam is shabby but lovable just like Lister, while the second has Rimmer’s short-tempered, crossed-armed pomposity. Spacey, however, channels HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, his dulcet tones making GERTY both soothing and sinister.

While Moon wears its influences on its sleeve (shades of Alien and Silent Running are also apparent), what marks it as unique is as much its intelligent script and zippy dialogue as its fascinating plot. Today’s sci-fi seldom merges bleakness with a genuinely thought-provoking narrative, while remaining gripping. Apart from a couple of moments of light relief, Moon is a heartbreaking film that deals with identity and inconsolable loneliness. The saddest moment has Sam breaking down in a moon buggy, crying ‘I just want to go home’ before the camera pans up to the bright blue disc of Earth in front of him – tangible, yet beyond his reach.

Despite such seriousness, it’s a deceptively short film that feels longer because so much is packed in – a testament to Jones’ impressive pacing – just one of the reasons to keep an eye on him as an emerging talent.

Rating: 5/5


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