Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell, "Choke," "Frost/Nixon") has been working for almost three years as Lunar Enterprises' sole astronaut monitoring the harvesters which provide 70% of the earth's power from lunar rock. With only Gerty (voice of Kevin Spacey, "American Beauty," "21"), a robot which attends to his every need, for company, Sam is counting down the days until he can return to the wife, Tess Bell (Dominique McElligott), and child he left behind when he left for the dark side of the "Moon."
In his feature directorial debut, Duncan Jones (aka Zowie Bowie) teams up with screenwriter Nathan Parker (son of writer/director Alan) to develop his story idea that, while unique in its own right, also harkens to everything from the obvious "2001" and "Silent Running" to his dad's songs "Space Odyssey" and its sequel "Ashes to Ashes," and movie "The Man Who Fell to Earth." Yet even with all that historical Sci-Fi that precedes it, "Moon" is an idea that outstays its welcome. It would have worked better as a short.
When we first meet Sam, he's bearded and pale with dark circles under his eyes. He seems on the verge of a breakdown of some sort and indeed he is - just not the type we first imagine. Sam gets 'taped' messages from his wife that Gerty sets up for him and when he notices an edit, we begin to suspect Gerty is sabotaging Sam's mission. On the other hand, Sam has begun to see things beginning with brief flashes of other versions of himself on monitors, then people who are not there. The first of these, a young woman in a chair, causes Sam to scald himself with hot water, and Gerty questions Sam as he bandages him. Later, as Sam approaches a harvester in his LRV, he sees someone in the dust and crashes. When he next comes to, he's in sick bay being attended by Gerty who tells him communications are down. Sam's overheard Gerty having a direct conversation, though, with Thompson (Benedict Wong, "Sunshine") and Overmeyers (Matt Berry) at Lunar HQ, and so he sabotages a station wall in order to get Gerty to allow him to go outside. Then he sets off for the accident scene, where he finds something very surprising.
Jones's story and Parker's script do two things well (slight implied spoiler in second sentence). Firstly, the central conceit is a new twist on corporate malfeasance with underlying explorations into human memory and identity. Secondly, with audiences predisposed to the famous actions of "2001's" H.A.L, they are inclined to believe Gerty's loyalties lie with that corporation. Once all the cards are on the table, remember that woman Sam thought he saw and think about the possibilities at play. But one also has questions even before Sam 'finds himself,' such as why would his communiques with wife Tess be delivered pre-taped? Instant communication has been available since the beginnings of space travel and Sam should know this, although the concept becomes unnerving the first time he notices an edit. Why is there a ping pong table on a solo-manned space station? And why is Sam's entertainment decades old sitcoms ("Bewitched," "Mary Tyler Moore") - budgetary considerations?
It's obvious that a small budget is at play here, as one cannot help but realize we are on one set with brief forays in a lunar pod (interior set plus models) to another set. "Capricorn One" may come to mind, giving conspiracy theorists a possibility to ponder. The most stellar bit of design is Gerty, a futuristic robot comprised of a 'humanoid' white traveling bot which projects variations on the smiley face on a small display and sports spills, post-its and a cup holder, plus the robotic arm which appears to travel along from a ceiling track.
Rockwell creates two distinct performances to illustrate the troubled Sam who arrived at the station three years earlier and the one who has mellowed over time, but it can be difficult to believe they are the same guy. 'Fresh' Sam is distrustful, taciturn and prone to violence whereas 'breakdown' Sam is as laid back as a flower child. Spacey's distinct voice is a nice match for Gerty, although this is a performance that doesn't exactly push the actor.
"Moon" is a good calling card for its second generation artists, but it is either an over-extended or under developed treatment of a good idea. There's not enough there there to make "Moon" an exceptional genre piece.
Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) lives a solitary existence on the dark side of the moon running the Lunar Enterprses automated mining complex that collects, processes and ships to Earth helium-3, a safe and clean source of energy. He is nearing the end of his three-year stint on the satellite but things get weird when he starts seeing and hearing things. His life, he discovers, may not be as it seems on the “Moon.”
Duncan Jones, son of David Bowie (nee David Jones), makes his feature debut with a calling card that shows his potential as a filmmaker. With his relatively small budget and deft use of CGI, Jones brings an interesting, though derivative, sci-fi tale that deals with the effects of long-term isolation and cloning. The result begins in an intriguing way but, as the film unfolds, the twists of plot turns into the good guys (the Sams) versus the monolithic corporation, Lunar, that runs the helium-3 business on the moon. Because of this, “Moon’s” first half is involving, with the second half rolling to its inevitable conclusion.
Sam Rockwell is okay in the duel role of the Sams and delineates the differences and similarities between them. The other principle character, GERTY (voice of Kevin Spacey), is a robotic computer and Sam’s only company. Comparison to HAL in “2001” is obvious and Spacey could have done the voice in his sleep. (And, he may have.)
Kudos to Jones and his behind the camera team for producing a good-looking film that uses its computer imaging to good affect. “Moon” is a film that will get the director’s foot in the door for opportunities for bigger and better things to come. I give it a C+.
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