Duncan Jones' feature film debut is a sharp, astute homage to '70s sci-fi, primarily in how it similarly uses the genre to explore humanity rather than facilitate huge CGI-assisted explosions. Astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the lone caretaker of a mining operation on the lunar surface (harvesting clean energy helium-3), now approaching the end of a three-year contract and eager to be reunited with his pregnant wife...
Exhibiting early signs of cabin fever and suffering hallucinations, a distracted Sam crashes his moon rover while retrieving helium-3 canisters outside, and wakes up back inside the base's infirmary. His curiosity piqued by robot companion GERTY's (Kevin Spacey) sudden refusal to let him go back outside, Sam manipulates his way outdoors and is astonished to find an injured duplicate of himself in the wreckage of his crashed rover...
The interesting thing about Moon is how it's nigh impossible to prime someone to watch it without revealing what appears to be a keystone of the mystery. The cloning can't be considered a true spoiler (as it's just part of the film's setup), but if Moon has one flaw it's that anyone with half a brain can guess where the script's headed once a doppelganger is introduced. Fortunately, while Moon may not have the ingenuity to keep audiences guessing or surprised by a cannier twist in Act III, it regularly tugs at your emotions to fine effect throughout. The shock of someone discovering they're a clone is an inexplicably flaccid moment (the Sam's are playing ping pong together within minutes), but the swell of anguish and fury at what their existence means is brilliantly portrayed.
Nominally a one-man show, Sam Rockwell makes for a sympathetic and likeable blue-collar hero, clearly enjoying the challenge of acting opposite himself via split-screen trickery and doubles. The "newborn" Sam is dynamic and concerned about the situation; the Sam he's rescued is a shuffling, decaying shell as his lifespan reaches expiration. But both must work together to put their existences into perspective and strike a blow against their employer's inhumanity.
Aesthetically, Moon's mixture of model work and CGI proves to be a very effective partnership. Everything has a weight and texture that so often eludes purely digital creations, and the seams between both techniques are impossible to spot. As the archetypal A.I concierge, GERTY slides around the interior of the moon base like a piece of high-tech hospital equipment; a selection of yellow "smilies" the only emotional clue behind its staid intonations. What I particularly loved was how preconceptions of intelligent machines being nothing but trouble was flipped on its head, as GERTY actually proves to be more compassionate than most humans.
There are aspects of Moon's story that failed to surprise or excite as much as I expected them to, but its emotional core is kept alive by Sam Rockwell's touching performance and a few heart rendering moments towards the end. Mainly though, it's just great to see a science-fiction movie that feels worthy of the genre and gets you invested in the story and characters. It's not as intellectually stimulating as I'd hoped, and there are some sluggish patches because the script doesn't have too many surprises up its sleeve, but this is undoubtedly an accomplished low-budget "calling card" for Jones' young career. The man formerly known as Zowie Bowie is a new British talent to keep an eye on.
Picture: (2.40:1, 1080P, AVC/H.264/MPEG4) A great transfer that has to balance deep blacks, bright whites and foggy greys -- as you'd expect from a film set on the moon. It's generally pin-sharp with well-balanced colours (with occasionally soft scenes), great contrast, and fine detail throughout. The model work looks particularly crisp.
Sound: (English DTS-HD Master Audio, French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Portuguese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) The sound-mix isn't going to give anyone's surround sound system a workout, but it's a pleasant aural experience and grounds you in the reality presented. I'd have liked more sonics in the rear speakers and bass for atmosphere, but the dialogue and Clint Mansell's score come through perfectly.
- Commentary #1: Feature-length yakker with writer-director Duncan Jones, director of photography Gary Shaw, concept designer Gavin Rothery and production designer Tony Noble, which is often a struggle to listen to.
- Commentary #2: The second chat-track with writer-director Duncan Jones and producer Stuart Fenegen, which is much more typical and informative.
- The Making Of Moon: 16-minute featurette giving us an insight into how this low-budget movie was put together. In particular, Duncan Jones and Sam Rockwell discuss the split-screen techniques used so that Rockwell can act opposite himself, and Jones extols the virtues of combining old-fashioned models with CGI.
- "Whistle": A 28-minute short film that Jones wrote and directed in 2002, about a family man who works for a company dealing in high-tech, untraceable assassination in the near-future. Interesting and promising early work, although it felt stretched and could have been condensed into punchier 15-minutes, if you ask me.
- Creating The Visual Effects: 11-minute look at FX company Cinesite's work creating Moon's 400-plus effect shots; from cloning Sam and creating GERTY (a mix of practical and digital), to many unnoticeable challenges in assembling the moon base and creating realistic lunar landscapes.
- Space Centre Q&A: 20-minute Q&A with Jones at Houston's space centre, where he reveals his cinematic influences and plans for a sequel set in Berlin. Decent, but not essential.
- Filmmakers Q&A At Sundance: 11-minute festival Q&A where Jones, Rockwell and the producers answer many of the same kind of questions.
- Trailers: Moon's theatrical trailer, a promo for Sony Blu-Ray (as if you needed one, given what you're watching this on!), the trailer for disaster movie 2012, and a promo for Ghostbusters' debut on the BR format.
written & directed by: Duncan Jones starring: Sam Rockwell (Sam Bell), Kevin Spacey (GERTY, voice), Robin Chalk (Younger Sam), Dominique McElligott (Tess Bell), Kaya Scodelario (Eve Bell), Benedict Wong (Thompson), Matt Berry (Overmeyers) & Malcolm Stewart (The Technician)