MOON - Review (Spoilers)

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Ever since the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey science fiction cinema has stockpiled ever more sophisticated visions of mankind's physical relationship with the environment of space. These views, perpetuated through the late 1970s and early 1980s in such classics as Silent Running, Alien and Outland have depicted man caught in the contradiction of attempting to survive hostile encounters with aliens, machines or his fellow creatures whilst also dealing with the consequences of technology and how it is both civilisation's saviour and destroyer. The hero is seen as isolated figure, often with his own moral code, and rather situate him in the pristine, anti-septic idealised future of Star Trek, those great films have shown us life in space for our hero can be dirty, messy and have profound psychological and physical effects on the mind and body.

Moon, a low budget UK film directed by Duncan Jones, shares these familiar tropes, almost concentrates them down, in fact, to pay wonderful homage to the visual language of the back catalogue and to put the issues of identity - of humans, machines and artificial men - centre stage with an astounding performance from Sam Rockwell as the main character Sam Bell.

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Sam Bell is employed by Lunar Industries (those of us familiar with this genre will instantly be suspicious of corporations because they inevitably have blood on their hands and are up to no good) to supervise the mining of the surface of the moon for cheap, free energy. He is about to complete his three year tour of duty and is looking forward to returning to Earth to his wife and child. The problem is, he is hallucinating - seeing a young girl in the base and then on the surface - and beginning to notice that the messages from his wife on Earth are being manipulated. There is an accident. Next thing we know, Sam appears to have been recovered from his crashed vehicle and is being tended by his robot companion GERTY. As a rescue mission from Earth is launched to return him home and repair the mining vehicle, Sam overhears a live conversation between GERTY and Earth, even though there has been a communications failure on the base for some time, and becomes suspicious.

He eventually fakes a meteorite strike in order to get out of the base and returns to the scene of the accident, discovering that, in fact, his damaged vehicle is still occupied...

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...by himself. The two Sams then have to unravel the company's conspiracy to use clones of the original Sam Bell to keep the mining operation going. Worse still, it is also the fact that they have given the cloned Sams the memories of the original, including a life with a wife and daughter back on Earth.

The film, whilst glorying in the production design that epitomises this branch of science fiction cinema, with loving pastiches of Harry Lange's work on 2001 and the Les Dilley, Roger Christian and Ron Cobb design and set decoration for Alien as well as emulating their signature graphics and typography, is at its heart about what it is to be human. This is often a preoccupation in the 'dirty futures' of space based SF films and Duncan Jones and his writer Nathan Parker quite rightly concentrate on Sam Bell's increasing paranoia, loneliness and depression within the wider context of the construction of his identity and personality.

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So, it's a film with great thought attached to some impressive visuals. Fortunately, they hired Sam Rockwell to play the cloned versions of Sam and as well as handling the technical demands of the film he also, by virtue of his considered performance, holds the film together. It could quite easily have slipped into being a bore fest without Rockwell's commitment to the role. He is often very moving, especially in the understated climax where one of the Sam clones must sacrifice his life to allow the other to escape to Earth and blow the lid of the company's machinations. He's also superb in that very moving scene when he drives the moon rover out beyond the company's jamming frequencies and 'phones home, only to find that Sam's wife, of which all the clones would presumably have implanted memories, has actually died and his daughter Eve is now a teenager and the real Sam appears to be back on Earth.

There's also that very dry performance from Kevin Spacey as GERTY and Jones manages to manipulate the audience into a growing insecurity about Sam's robot pal only to completely turn it round towards the end by defying our expectations with GERTY helping Sam rather than getting all HAL-9000 on his ass. The robot ironically suggests Sam wipes its memory to help cover his tracks from the impending arrival of the rescue team.

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Made at Shepperton (where they filmed Alien in 1977) director Jones also foresook the overuse of digital effects and hired model effects legend Bill Pearson to design and build the vehicles and mining stations. It all looks great on the visual effects side and it's clear that Jones is very capable of producing high quality images on a relatively low budget. It's also embellished by Clint Mansell's sympathetically eerie minimalist score that mixes aching strings and delicate piano with electronic bleats and rhythms. It too captures the conflict of emotions and paranoid confusion of the main character, adding further to the film's humanist outlook and its critique of corporate slavery in the high frontier of space.

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A fine little film that appears to have sneaked out under the radar in the summer blockbuster season and one which I hope gets a good audience who appreciate an interesting concept with thought provoking ideas about our own identities in an increasingly industrialised and exploitative society. And our attitudes towards those beings that one day we might create and foolishly end up exploiting. Don't expect action and explosions but instead treat yourself to something with a bit more brains.

MOON (Cert 15. Released July 17th 2009. Directed by Duncan Jones)

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One Response to “MOON - Review (Spoilers)”
  1. Hey, great review. This movie didn't come out in theaters near where I live so I just saw it on DVD a few weeks ago. It was such a refreshing film after living through the empty hype that was Avatar. One of those films you didn't know you desperately needed until after you experience it. Hopefully the crew of this film will continue to give us gems like this one in the future. The film industry definitely need fresh blood.

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