“Moon,” dark and beautiful, is a fresh sci-fi experience

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Moon

Directed by: Duncan Jones

Written by: Duncan Jones, Nathan Parker

2009, USA

In a genre that typically gets bogged down with clichés and conventions, Moon is a standout, a subtle and surprising 2009 film, the debut of director Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie). Refreshing and original, Jones takes us on a poignant journey about mankind’s inevitable future and the toll it will take on the individual.

Written specifically for Sam Rockwell, the actor delivers a stellar performance playing Sam Bell, a helium miner assigned to a fuel-harvesting station on lunar base Sarang. The science behind the movie was inspired by the book Entering Space by Robert Zubrin in which helium isotopes become clean fuel for the future. Nearing the end of his three-year contract, Rockwell’s palpably lonely character is at his wit’s end, with only his robotic helper GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) to keep him company. With communications down and no link to his wife on Earth, he prepares for his return home in two weeks. Left to conversations with himself and GERTY, Sam begins to unravel.

According to Jones, the movie cost a meagre $5 million to produce, but he stretches his budget for all it’s worth. Cinematographer Gary Shaw (Sleepy Hollow, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, The Mummy) uses old-school models to create compelling exterior shots reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Alien, while composer Clint Mansell (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream) creates an eerie atmosphere that supports rather than competes with the film’s developments.

It’s no surprise that Rockwell shines as Bell, running the gamut of emotions as he faces several challenging scenes – alone. The actor takes on each with intimidating ease, a seemingly everyday kind of guy with incredibly deep talent and energy. With the major twist in the film as something better left unsaid, Moon deftly deals with questions of alienation and the human experience, creating a cerebral sci-fi movie with faint nods to other genre classics like Silent Running, Solaris, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The only off-putting aspect about the film seems to be Kevin Spacey’s voice. With the computer being a central element to the plot, Spacey hits the mark with a perfect mix of mechanical coldness and emotive intonation, but his voice is so recognizable that the robot becomes somewhat of a distraction. Reminiscent of Hal-9000, GERTY is at once subdued and suspicious, with disconcerting happy/sad faces being displayed on its small screen to reflect its mood.

With Moon, Jones has managed to break free from sci-fi gimmicks and with just the right amount of tone, character and plot twist, has created a graceful, layered film that captivates until the very end. According to a 2009 IndieWIRE interview with the director, he hopes his next project, Source Code, will act as an homage to his favorite sci-fi film of all time: Blade Runner.

Melanie Lefebvre

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