This year being the 40th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, the timing couldn’t be more appropriate for Duncan Jones’ admirable, if derivative, low-budget science-fiction think piece Moon; a pared down exercise in minimalism that serves as a one-man show for its edgy lead, Sam Rockwell.

Co-writer and director Jones covers the opening ground quickly, a mock television commercial explaining that Earth’s energy needs are now met by mining the moon for Helium 3, converting rocks into fuel in massive robotic factories. Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a Lunar company employee who is coming to the end of a three-year stint as the sole human inhabitant of the mining station Selene. He is not entirely alone, however. His companion is a computer named GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey in a soothing monotone) who looks after the mine’s complex systems and thanks to a robotic arm, assists Sam’s in his work.

Owing to a problem with the communications satellite, his only communication with his Earth-bound wife (Irish actress Dominique McElligott) and baby daughter is via pre-recorded videos. The constant routine of work, exercise and sleep increase Sam’s sense of cabin-fever, his isolation and paranoia. With only a fortnight to go in the mission, Sam starts hearing and seeing things. When a routine operation goes badly wrong and he is knocked out for a couple of hours, the now-bedraggled astronaut awakes to discover that things have changed in his absence.

Watching Moon, it is virtually impossible not to be reminded of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, and there are nods also to other sci-fi classics of the 1960s and 1970s; Silent Running, Outland and Alien, films that posed questions about the nature of humanity or considered the possibilities of the future. To say much more might ruin some of the surprises in the film's sparse, delicately positioned plotting. Jones immerses the viewer into a future world, quickly explains the mechanics of the narrative and uses the rest of the time to marry the intricacies of the story into a wider theme, in this case asking moral question about human identity in a world where creating life has become laboratory science.

This is not the kind of cosmic environment evoked by Star Trek, a chummy club of adventurers scooting around the universe surrounded by safe, reliable technologies. This is a cold, indifferent place, where machines built by humans are corroded by use and contain built-in errors. Jones constructs a credible, realistically grimy space station interior, a modular, utilitarian place instantly familiar and satisfyingly real, at least to genre fans. There are ironic touches everywhere, from Gerty’s simple emoticon interface to Sam’s wake-up call, a shrill blast of Chesney Hawke’s 'I Am The One And Only'.

Moon never quite reaches the heights of its inspirations, but neither does it explode on the launch pad. In his feature debut, Jones (who is no doubt sick to tears of people going on about him being David Bowie’s son) displays an impressive technical command of his budget-restricted special effects, spinning a spare, genre specific chamber piece into a thoughtfully considered and consistently inventive story filled with ideas, even if some of those were originally Kubrick’s.


clom said...

i really enjoyed it. it doesn't quite fit together but it's a really interesting, thought-provoking piece that, at least for me, is more about the world of work and the future of the corporation than about space itself.

like a kind of 21st century "office space"

ColmB said...

Hey why dont you post all the weekends releases in one post? If i miss the paper one sunday i want the reviews here.
It's not like you have to write a new review,You copy and paste it anyways.

John said...

Hi ColmB

From the outset, I decided to only post selected reviews on this blog, a couple of days (or more) after they have been printed. I never intended to post opinions on everything I see and that situation will not be changing.

I don't quite cut and paste from the printed reviews either. In fact, I make some alterations between the two versions of the reviews, print and internet, and even more so in what I say on the radio, although the main thrust of the opinion doesn't change.