Let’s get something out of the way right at the start: I think this film is flawless. Please continue reading after you have picked yourself up off the floor.
The debut feature of Duncan Jones and starring almost exclusively Sam Rockwell, Moon represents what I think is the best of SF; stories that use science or some form of futuristic setting to present character-driven stories. Blade Runner, Silent Running, Dark Star, Gattaca, The Truman Show, The Man From Earth, Battlestar Galactica…I’m sure I could go on, but the point is that all of those mentioned are about the characters in them, not about the technology that makes the story possible. Moon needn’t necessarily be set on the moon, but it makes sense here as it’s about as isolated a place as we can imagine now, with most places on Earth now reachable by air, freight or Sherpa.
The story is about Sam Bell, played by Rockwell. Bell is stationed, alone, for three years on the far side of the moon overseeing a lunar mining operation. Unable to receive live information from Earth due to malfunctioning equipment, with only a Kevin Spacey-voiced computer for company and his three-year contract close to completion, the film is about how the mentally-fragile Bell reacts to and deals with a shattering discovery that occurs during the first act.
Because the film is so dependent upon us believing in and caring about Bell, it’s fortunate that Rockwell’s performance here is so good, the best I’ve seen him since Confessions of a Dangerous Mind; he seamlessly plays different aspects of the same persona and makes it look easy. Rockwell has that affable everyman quality about him but he can switch from that to dangerous to pitiful and back again at a moment’s notice, so there’s never a dull moment. Without wanting to give too much away, there’s some impressive camera trickery for some of his more complicated scenes that I hope people will appreciate.
For the external scenes, Jones eschews CGI in favour of old-fashioned model work, created by the same people that worked on the models for Ridley Scott’s Alien, and the models look superb; realistic in a way that CGI rarely manages and unlikely to date as fast either (the model work in both Scott’s early SF films and James Cameron’s has barely aged despite being several decades old now). The result is that it feels just like how you might imagine being on the moon really is. Both outside the mining base and within, it never feels anything less than real, and it’s heartening to know that it will still look just as good 20 years from now.
The film also sounds as good as it looks, scored by Clint Mansell who previously worked on several Aronofsky films: Pi, The Fountain, The Wrestler.
What also makes the film so exciting for me is that it’s an ultra-low budget ($5,000,000), independent, English production that ably demonstrates just what you can do if the script is right, the story is right, the cast is right and the director is right. When I look at what other genre films are out at the moment, I’m being stared back at by Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; Terminator: Salvation and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and I find that faintly depressing, these turgid three-hour marathons, wanking eulogies to special effects and overblown action sequences with no real substance to either character or story. It’s said that Christian Bale only signed on to Terminator: Salvation if ‘McG’ could come up with a script that worked just as well on the stage as it did on the screen; with Moon, Duncan Jones has managed exactly that.