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In Association with
Moon (2009)
Director: Duncan Jones

review by Max Cairnduff

This is an exceptional piece of science fiction filmmaking by first-time director Duncan Jones. Starring Sam Rockwell (who gives a subtle and nuanced performance), the voice of Kevin Spacey, and pretty much nobody else save some brief walk-on parts it's a film driven by character and ideas, not by special effects.

Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a man on a three-year contract to operate a helium-3 mining station on the dark side of the Moon. He's on his own out there, the communications link with Earth is down and has been for some time, and his only company is a robot named Gerty who takes care of chores for him. As the film begins, he's dishevelled, with wild hair and beard, with nobody there to notice he's stopped taking care of himself. He's due to go home soon, though, to his wife and young daughter. His wife's messages (which he can't return because the link is down), and his dreams of her, are all that keeps him sane.

Sam's duties aren't heavy ones, he oversees equipment, and when an automated He-3 extractor is full he drives out in a rover and picks it up. Shortly after the film opens we see him, now looking much more groomed, hallucinating from loneliness - seeing images of a young woman he doesn't recognise. Sam sees her again on the lunar surface while driving his rover, crashes, and when he wakes up back in the lunar base he starts to realise that everything may not be as it appears.

Plot-wise, it's very hard to discuss Moon without spoilers, but it's quite possible as you read this you already know the basic plot, in which case all I'll say is that the film still holds up well once you know what's going on. If you don't know what happens, my only reassurance is that it makes sense; it's solid hard-SF of a sort far too rare in cinema and it avoids any credulity-testing twists or diversions out of genre.

Moon builds on the great science fiction films of the 1960s and 1970s, it clearly draws inspiration from Silent Running, Solaris, and 2001: A Space Odyssey - all of which feature isolated men cut off from the rest of humanity, adrift in space, facing emptiness, loneliness and the unknown. Gerty, the base's robot, has a barely varying vocal tone that it supplements by use of a small video monitor on which it displays smiley or sad faces as appropriate. Is Gerty on Sam's side? Can he trust it? For Freeman Lowell in Silent Running, the robots are the only other good guys left. For Dave Bowman in 2001, Hal is more dangerous than the monolith. It's a credit to Moon that for much of its length, it's not entirely clear which genre ancestor Gerty is closest to.

Moon is very much a science fiction fan's science fiction film. It's comfortable with exploring ideas, it feels no need to wedge in elements of other genres (a compromise which badly damaged the otherwise strong Sunshine), and it's confident that those ideas are enough to maintain the viewer's interest. When all you have is one actor, one voice, a bland lunar habitat and a rover interior you need a strong story, and it's in that regard that Moon for me really delivered.

I consider Moon a contemporary classic of science fiction, right up there with the films I mentioned earlier (indeed better than Silent Running). It's measured, thoughtful and a type of filmmaking we just don't see enough of. Coming in at 93 minutes, it's a small scale film that works well as a DVD viewing, having no need for a large screen to make its points. I'm excited to see what Duncan Jones makes next, as although science fiction writing is often intelligent, science fiction cinema is rarely so. It's good to see someone redressing that balance.


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