Moon (UK; 97 min.)

directed by: Duncan Jones
starring: Sam Rockwell; Kaya Scodelario; Dominique McElligott; Matt Berry; Robin Chalk

Jason says: "I will not lie to you; as soon as I read the description of Moon, I had mentally anointed it my favorite film of the festival, to the point where not only would another film have to blow me away, but this one would have to screw up.  I like Sam Rockwell, good acting, nifty visuals, and I have a particular fondness for this particular, underappreciated part of future history (the 'interplanetary era').  Well, as it turns out, a film or two did impress me a lot, but this one not only didn't screw up, but it wound up being one of the smartest, most well-rounded science fiction films in recent memory.

"In the future, the energy crisis has been averted by cheap fusion, fueled by Helium-3.  Lunar Industries maintains a mostly-automated base on the dark side of the moon to collect it, with astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) and base computer GERTY (voice of Kevin Spacey) monitoring the four rolling drone refineries.  He's nearing the end of his three-year tour, and it's a good thing; the isolation is starting to make him peculiar; it doesn't help that the relay satellite that would allow him to communicate with Earth in real time is busted.  Days before his return trip, there's an accident when he takes his buggy out to retrieve the contents of one of the rovers; fortunately, there are failsafes in place and he wakes up back in the base.  Something seems amiss, though; is GERTY hiding something?

"There's a mystery at the center of Moon, of course, one that it would be terribly wrong of me to spoil.  Thankfully, filmmaker Duncan Jones (director, author of the original story) and screenwriter Nathan Parker do not feel the need to keep things from the audience past the point where keeping secrets creates more plot holes than it does suspense.  The keystone revelation comes fairly early, and though there is a surprise or three after that, nearly all of them fall under the heading of details.  When Jones turns things on their head, he makes sure that both Sam and the audience has a chance to consider and react to it.

"Most of the movie is Sam reacting to it, and that means Sam Rockwell has to be on the top of his game.  Moon is pretty close to being a one-man show - Kevin Spacey has a great computer voice, but is called on to give a deliberately non-expressive performance, and there's no room in the story for other characters and actors for Rockwell to work off.  It's up to Rockwell to show us exactly what's going on in Sam's head at any given time - which, given the situation, can vary quite a bit even within a scene - and he does an exemplary job of that, especially considering that Jones chooses to eliminate something that could make for an easy visual cue for the audience and forgo the often-used chestnut of giving someone at the edge of sanity a hallucination to talk to.

"The film was introduced at the festival with the sort of comment that often annoys me, that its a good science fiction film because it relies on great acting rather than special effects.  I chuckled a little afterward, because it winds up being a case where the fine acting and effects serve to buttress each other; if one had faltered, the other wouldn't look quite so good.  That's just one part of what the visual effects guys were doing; the other part, the obvious stuff on the surface of the moon, was also very impressive.  You can give a little more of your smallish independent movie's budget to the tech guys when you've basically got a cast of one, and the tech guys do some terrific model work.  What we see looks instantly familiar from the last decade or two of footage from lunar and martian rovers, but is also dramatic and dynamic enough to make for good movie visuals.

"Jones and Parker do a fine job all around.  Moon isn't the hardest of hard science fiction, but it has pleasing attention to detail for those of us that really like attention to detail:  The science holds up, for the most part, and where it's beyond the filmmaker's abilities, they do the best they can:  Most people will stop watching to see if they get lunar gravity right well before I do, for instance, so if things fall at a non-plot-affecting one gee, it doesn't happen until after that point.  Like the best science fiction, it's a story that follows directly from its speculative premise (rather than a conventional story transplanted to an unusual milieu), which gives its characters new and difficult decisions to make and emotional turmoil to go through.

"That just doesn't come around often enough, and when it does, it's not usually nearly as good across the board as it is here.  I wish that happened more often; more people would respect science fiction as a genre and those who are already fans would get something besides spectacle. 5 cats

"Seen 14 March 2009 at the Austin Paramount Theater (SXSW Spotlight Premieres)"


Diane says: "My reaction to this movie is analogous to my enjoyment of mystery novels: I love the set-up, the frame, the characterization, but as soon as the murder happens, I lose interest. I really liked MOON right through where we start to figure out what's going on, and a little after. But once lunar worker Sam Bell tries to strategize a way out of the mess he's in, ehhh. I certainly wasn't emotionally connected. (Maybe I need a good shot of BREAKING THE WAVES to reset my catharsis receptor.)

"The lovely score (heavy on piano) is suspiciously critical to the film--that is too say: while watching a couple of scenes I imagined them without music, and would have interpreted them very differently than where the music was leading me. Without the music, the story development would be even less successful. I don't think that's a good sign.

"Good look, good 2001 homage. I would say what two movies meet to make this one, but that would be giving too much away.... 3 cats.

"If you've seen this, let me know so I can get your thoughts on the last two lines of dialogue. And how come every print review I read of this gives the spoiler?"