Tackling this review has presented a bit of a dilemma. Firstly, for me, the main strength of Moon is its narrative intrigue, the what-happens-next. There’s not a lot you can discuss about this aspect of the movie without pooping the party with plot spoilers. I don’t wanna do that. Which leaves me rather restricted in this write-up!
Secondly, I went into the cinema with quite high expectations (always a danger) and walked out feeling a bit let down, and somehow uneasy about putting my critic’s hat on. I decided to postpone any sort of written analysis in favour of letting the movie sit a while. I’m glad I did. If I’d dashed off a review the same day of the screening, I fear it might have been more critical than was just. For all this pre-review rumination, however, I don’t have a hell of a lot to say!
Let’s start with the easy part: the basic synopsis. It’s 2026. Pollution and climate change is a thing of the past on earth, all energy now being provided via a clean source – nuclear fusion – which is fuelled by Helium-3. A corporation has set up mining operations on the dark side of the moon, where the vastly valuable Helium-3 is relatively plentiful. Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is a blue collar astronaut (now there’s a futuristic concept!), working a 3 year lunar stint overseeing mining operations for the corporation, alone except for Gerty, a very retro-looking robot (voiced by Kevin Spacey). He is nearing the end of his time, counting down the days until he returns to his wife and daughter, when things start getting spooky. He begins seeing people. Then, returning to consciousness after an accident, he comes face to face with his doppelganger. Clone? Psychotic episode? Whatever, between them, the two Sams uncover evidence of corporate treachery beyond the previously imaginable… That’ll do. Good premise, huh?
OK, without getting into details, the story has logic flaws aplenty. I’m not going to list the ones I noticed…and in a sense, who cares? It’s part of the territory with sci-fi flicks, innit?
More concerning is the failure of the lead character to emotionally engage the viewer – this viewer, anyway – when his situation is clearly full of pathos. Shit, here’s this guy alone in deep space, out of live contact with his loved ones, having serious physical and mental health issues, unsure whether he’s hallucinating or the victim of some terrifyingly weird corporate skullduggery, his only support a goddamned robot until his double turns up with a none-too-friendly attitude…and I’m sitting there unmoved! Nothing to do with the acting, either. Sam Rockwell is terrific. Maybe too many Sams spoil the broth…
And while the set-up is enthralling, the story loses tension as it progresses. It doesn’t run out of puff entirely. You stay curious, but end up a little too comfortable in the middle of your seat, rather than teetering on the edge. That premise should have spawned a better plot than turns out to be the case. The conclusion is particularly disappointing, too easy given the intricate narrative build-up.
That’s the whinging out of the way. What about the good stuff?
Well, the art direction is superb. The moonscapes, referencing pictures from the Apollo missions, are incredibly realistic, a triumph of art and technology – and more of the former than the latter. Moon is not a big budget Hollywood blockbuster full of state-of-the-art CGI; this little indie effort was shot over just 33 days for a paltry $5 million, mingy indeed by today’s budgetary standards. Yet by ingeniously blending old school techniques and live action photography with CGI, these guys have brought off a special effects coup that puts many extravagantly financed sci-fi productions to shame.
Further, it’s invested with a lot more thought than yer typical contemporary sci-fi flick, which generally amounts to little more than an extended chase through space glammed up with special effects. A lot more thought, but still not quite enough, and you’re left with a sense of an opportunity lost.
All in all, a promising debut from director Duncan Jones, though, and well worth seeing if you’re a sci-fi nut. I’m not, so I missed a lot of the affectionate visual allusions throughout the movie to the “golden age of SF cinema” (as Jones terms it) of the 70s and early 80s. Perhaps that detracted somewhat from my appreciation of the film.
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