Friday, March 2, 2012

100 Movies - No. 63: Moon

63. Moon (2009)
Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction, 97 minutes
Directed by Duncan Jones
Starring Sam Rockwell and the voice of Kevin Spacey

Do you remember a time when science fiction movies relied on a strong story rather than showy special effects? That's what Moon achieves. Most of the acting is performed by Sam Rockwell, although he interacts with the voice of Kevin Spacey and a couple of other actors.

The setting is the far side of the moon and Sam Bell (Rockwell) is mining for Helium 3, which supplies 70 percent of Earth's energy needs. His only companion is GERTY (Spacey), who resembles the HAL 9000 computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sam spends his free time working out and carving a model village. He is two weeks away from the end of his 3-year contract and is excited about returning to Earth and seeing his wife and daughter.

One day, while Sam is performing routine maintenance on one of the mining harvesters, he crashes. If you were the only human being within 300,000 miles, that could be quite a problem. But, somehow, Sam wakes up in the infirmary with GERTY explaining that he has suffered an accident. How did GERTY rescue him? Did someone from Earth recover Sam, or was the event dreamed or imagined? Is Sam starting to hallucinate or go crazy after three years of isolation?

There are many subtle audio and visual clues to what is really happening, but you might miss most of them on first viewing. When you know the film's secrets, little details take on additional meaning. Note also how Jones uses what we know about 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the kind of character Spacey usually portrays, to bring us to certain conclusions about GERTY.

We spend the first 28 minutes of the film seeing how Sam lives. At that point, something happens which changes the feel of the entire film. Events start to become much clearer. I'm reluctant to spoil the reveal for anyone who hasn't seen the film, so I'm not going to discuss the plot any further.

Rockwell delivers a wonderful performance as the multifaceted Sam. His isolation reminds me of Cast Away, 127 Hours and I Am Legend. The film examines the psychological effects of being alone and the difficulty in dealing with the outside world when that isolation finally ends. There are also deeper themes such as morality and our fundamental freedom.

When I look at the 2010 Oscar nominees, I have to wonder how District 9 was nominated ahead of Moon. It's also surprising that Rockwell missed out on a Best Actor nomination.

The budget was just $5 million, and the film looks incredible when you consider how little was spent. At no time did I think anything looked unconvincing or that I wasn't on the Moon. Clint Mansell's score was also noteworthy and set the mood perfectly. Moon is told in such a subtle way, but the tension slowly builds and creeps up on you. It's a very intelligent piece of writing by Director Duncan Jones.

If you enjoy classic science fiction and good acting, Moon is worth checking out.

If you like Moon:

Duncan Jones was given a $32 million budget for his next film, Source Code. It's a science fiction thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga and Michelle Monaghan. It shares some of the themes present in Moon, such as freedom, morality, and key female characters appearing on a screen. Both films will make you think and the scripts are always intelligent. If Duncan Jones continues to progress at this rate, he could become the next Christopher Nolan. It's so refreshing to watch good science fiction that doesn't rely solely on special effects.

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  1. Nice review. Haven't seen Moon yet (although I'm planning to) but really liked Source Code.

  2. I would be shocked if you didn't enjoy Moon. Sam Rockwell gave an amazing performance.