With prices for cinema tickets now reaching ridiculous heights it’s not often I will treat myself to a new release unless it’s something I simply cannot wait for. Instead, I’m happy to content myself with a cheap DVD or a film on TV which may have slipped through my critical net and, believe me, there have been far too many. Whether the films featured here are recent or old I’ll still be providing my honest opinion on them and, with the benefit of hindsight in many cases, may offer a slightly different take to contemporary reviewers.
The moon has long been a fascinating neighbour in the universe with the Americans being the first to land there during the Apollo 11 mission when Neil Armstong was the first man to walk on the surface in 1969. Duncan Jones’ directorial debut Moon sees our neighbour in the cosmos not only conquered but being harvested of its valuable resources to be sent back to Earth to replenish wilting supplies. Amidst this seemingly straightforward procedure is an intriguing sci-fi thriller that offers a fascinating puzzle.
Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), an employee of Lunar Industries, is on a three-year contract on the moon to oversee the harvesters that are drawing helium from beneath the moon’s surface. Sam’s job is to maintain the harvesters and to send canisters of helium back to Earth once they are filled. Sam’s is a lonely task with his only companion at the lunar base being an artificial intelligence system known as GERTY (delightfully voiced by Kevin Spacey) whose moods are transparent via a yellow face on its screen with the movable mouth revealing its current state of mind. Sam maintains irregular contact with his employers and with his wife, Tess (Dominique McElligott), and the daughter he has never met, Eve. The film opens with Sam just two weeks from the end of his contract but with the luxury of returning home to his family so close, Sam’s mental state suddenly becomes frighteningly fragile and he is faced with a staggering revelation about the lunar base.
Despite the communications with Earth this film is largely left to Sam Rockwell to carry alone though the presence of Kevin Spacey, in the guise of a robot, does help prevent monotony setting in. Sam’s daily activities are largely mundane and routine but with the end of his contract so close he begins to have strange hallucinations. First he sees a girl eating at a table then while driving on the moon’s surface to inspect the harvesters he crashes his vehicle after seeing someone standing outside! Waking in the infirmary Sam is told to rest for a few days by GERTY and becomes suspicious when he eavesdrops on his companion talking to a board of directors from Lunar Industries who insist Sam cannot go outside again. Sam manages to trick his way out of the lunar base and after locating his crashed vessel from earlier he finds a wounded astronaut aboard who looks identical to him! The two Sams begin with a dislike of one another but gradually band together in figuring out what is happening on the moon and at the lunar base.
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To say any more about the storyline in Moon would give the game away but this is a perplexing sci-fi mystery as the two Sams do some exploring of the moon’s surface and discover some unwanted truths. GERTY is something of a mystery, a seemingly helpful assistant that obeys both Sam and the directors of Lunar Industries but I found myself suspicious of it as the film progressed. Kevin Spacey’s voice works brilliantly with the artificial intelligence, seemingly bereft of any emotion, just retaining a calm tone throughout even when trying to stop Sam from doing anything outside of Lunar Industries’ authorisation. Good as Spacey is, it is Rockwell that rises to the challenge of being forced to dominate the film and even in playing two versions of Sam there are obvious differences between the two. Watching one continue with seemingly no problems while the other slowly deteriorates into physical and mental collapse was tragic but at the same time enthralling.
The only downside to Moon is the length of the film. After a good build up to Sam’s encounter with another version of himself the pace seemed to hasten about halfway through and the ending felt a little rushed with a potentially satisfactory outcome being hinted at rather than shown to us. That may seem harsh but it shouldn’t deter anyone from giving this one a try. For a debut effort this is impressive stuff and it was made on a limited budget which makes the shots of the moon’s surface all the more impressive.
Moon is a mind-boggling sci-fi mystery that begins slowly but soon gathers pace and although you may figure out the answers before they are revealed this will still keep you guessing how it will all turn out in the end. With stellar performances from Rockwell and Spacey this is an impressive debut from Jones who could be set for a fabulous career if he can maintain this standard.