On The Moon You Can Hear Yourself Scream
Sam Rockwell(Galaxy Quest, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) plays Sam Bell, a Helium3 harvester on the moon, Helium3 being Earth's newest and cleanest fuel supply. He's coming toward the end of his three year contract, tired and worn out, and desperate to return home to his wife and daughter from whom he receives intermittent messages. Keeping him company is an artificial intelligence called Gerty (Voiced by Kevin Spacey, and with obvious and intentional nods to HAL from Kubrick's 2001). However, it's not long before Sam begins to uncover a disturbing mystery that will forever alter his fate.
On a reported budget of only five million, it's fair to say that Moon works miracles, especially in the modern movie market place, with hideously expensive yet mediocre blockbusters. It's not perfect, and misfires occasionally, but on the whole is an expertly crafted and edited piece of work by director Duncan Jones (Son of singer David Bowie). It's not giving away any of the plot, to reveal that Sam discovers he is a clone, used to farm the surface of the moon (This is fairly obvious from the trailers). Sam Rockwell plays his part superbly, and with the aid of the direction and story, manages to create two distinct and different characters, who we the viewer never confuse.
There are a few un-answered moments. It's that old problem of what is best left as mystery, and what is relevant to the story. For example, one of the characters is slowly dying, but why? Radiation poisoning? Internal Injuries? Limited life-span running out? This question is left un-answered, but is relevant if we are to know the ultimate fate of the other character. Then there is the question of the willing or unwilling participation of the original Sam Bell. At first this may seem an unimportant question, but with regards to the psychology of our leads, it is entirely pertinent.
Where the film really shines, is in the characters' gradual realisation of their fate. The interplay as they deal emotionally with the repercussions. The only bit that jarred for me personally, was the initial avoidance the clones had with discussing their existence. It kicked me out of the otherwise engrossing story, as it felt disjointed and unrealistic. Though it can be argued that it is in fact a more genuine human reaction, as the characters avoid consciously dealing with such a psychologically shocking fact. A genuinely stand-out moment arrives when one of the Sams successfully makes contact with his remembered home, only to discover the emotionally shattering truth. A moment that re-enforces everything the characters are being forced to undergo.
The production contains nods to several classic science fiction films, all of which are very much about isolation. Namely Kubrick's 2001, Scott's Alien and Hyams' Outland. The set design owes a lot to all three (which themselves were influenced by each other in reverse order). There is 2001s clinical and near-future feeling to much of the equipment, the used and lived-in atmosphere of Alien, and the mining life of Outland. The spacesuits are an amalgam of Alien and Outland blended with realistic modern design. The countdown arrival of the armed 'rescue' team, even down to the displays, is a clear nod to Outland (even the brief view of the vessel at the end is reminiscent). Gerty is an intentionally subversive nod to 2001s HAL-9000 (Even labelled Gerty 3000L on its main unit), used in order to play with our expectations by initial similarity and later difference.
The effects work, especially considering the budget, is simply superb. It is either CGI enhanced model work, or CGI created expertly enough to appear like traditional model work. Whichever it is, it serves the story perfectly, and there is more than a sufficient amount for the film to never feel as though made on such limited funds. On a personal note, I felt that the addition of sound effects to the exteriors was out of place. In action and adventure situations it is an excusable conceit, but in this case I felt the atmosphere of isolation would have been greatly enhanced with creative use of silence and alternative sounds, such as a film like 2001. Having said that, it is a minor point, and really only a personal preference as very few films attempt it. The musical score by Clint Mansell is a limited and occasionally mixed bag. It serves its purpose, but one can't help feeling that a more delicate and nuanced soundtrack would have worked more appropriately.
The story isn't shockingly original and is certainly predictable, but as with many films, knowing the destination isn't as important as the journey getting there. Moon provides a thoughtful character study, that doesn't overstay its welcome. In our time of vapid blockbusters, it is a welcome, if slightly flawed return to the days of intelligent and thought-provoking science fiction. For that alone Moon deserves to be praised, but it is clearly able to stand on its own feet, making for a satisfying antidote in a sea awash with mediocrity.