Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Film review: Moon

Director: Duncan Jones
Cast: Sam Rockwell
Country: UK

The silent loneliness of space seems long forgotten in science fiction of the last two decades, more obsessed as the genre has been with the noisy theatrics of space opera since Stars Wars in 1977. A few films both before and after have defied that populist approach to big screen, high concept action, instead pursuing the conceit – in one way or another – where in space no-one can hear you scream when crazy shit goes down. Even before Ridley Scott informed us on this piece of trivia, film such as Solyaris (1972), Silent Running (1972) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) had already warned that the infinite, black vacuum was not the safest of playgrounds for the fragile human psyche. And now here in 2009 we find ourselves propelled back to that golden age of hard space sci-fi with Moon, a film that wears its cinephilia on its sleeve, masking the brilliant manipulations is deploys.

Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a man incarcerated by his job on the far side of the Moon, the sole supervisor of a mining facility. At some point in the not wholly distant future, mankind (or rather a company known as Lunar Industries) has solved the energy crisis thanks to a Hellium-3, a substance extracted from lunar rock that provides Earth with a pollution-free form of nuclear fusion. The mining is all largely automated and so Sam’s role is to be the human fixer at the facility and he is fact approaching the end of his three year tenure where his only companion is Hal-9000 reminiscent Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey), a computer with emoticons to express sardonic empathy for his human counterpart when called upon. Not all is well for Sam though, he seems to be getting ill, hallucinations haunt his waking hours and a broken satellite prevents him from communicating live with his wife and young daughter.

As this remarkable debut feature from Duncan Jones, son of David Bowie, begins to unfold with deeply satisfying and taut storytelling it becomes quite apparent that whilst derivative of its predecessors Moon has achieved a kind of cinematic self-awareness; and as a result stands tall as its own film, with its own ideas. Central to this is the highly talented, and wholly underappreciated Rockwell who is able to convey so much emotion with very little effort, wrinkled eyes masking an underlying well of sadness. For such an understated film, produced on a budget of merely US$5 million, Rockwell is the perfect star. Jones has made something akin to an agronomical masterpiece in filmmaking, with production, story and performance all in near perfect harmony, with a message that will resonate with thoughtful viewers for long after the credits have rolled.