Two months ago I mentioned in an entry here that I was anticipating this small sci-fi film, Moon, which was first scheduled to come out later in the summer. Well, turns out the date was pushed up to last month for certain cities, and I finally got to see Moon during what I think might be its last week in select theaters. Hopefully there will be a wider release in September. (Check out the link if you want to watch the trailer.)
Moon is a small budget, independent sci-fi movie directed by none other than David Bowie's son, Zowie (billed here as Duncan Jones). It stars primarily Sam Rockwell (of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fame) as Sam Bell, and Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects; K-PAX) as the voice of the lunar base robot, GERTY.
Basic premise: In the near future, Earth's energy crisis is virtually solved by the mining of Helium-3 rich regolith from the Moon. Sam Bell is a miner on contract with an Earth-based energy company contracted for a three-year stint alone on the Moon to oversee the mostly autonomous operation. When enough He3 is gathered to fill several canisters, his job is to trek out in his lunar surface rover and retrieve the canisters, then bring them back to base and place them in a launcher to send back to Earth. Except, on the eve of his contract expiration, something goes wrong during one such retrieval mission, and Sam makes a disturbing discovery that promises to turn his life completely upside down.
Kevin Spacey does an amazingly understated yet nuanced job voicing the likable robot AI who serves as Sam's only companion. The movie asks the audience to decide whether what Sam is seeing is real (as improbable as such a prospect seems), or if his discovery is really just the end-product of too much time in isolation from real human contact.
At first, the viewer is reminded strongly of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and there is a fear at the beginning that the movie is treading on cliched territory. Later, the plot develops to a point that seems to be mimicking another sci-fi character study film: Solaris. But I'm happy to say that Duncan Jones's film wisely steers clear of these tropes. Ingeniously so, in fact.
This is actually what elevates the film above most other well-intentioned but ultimately mundane character-driven sci-fi flicks. Just when you think you've got the story figured out, the plot surprises you. On more than one occasion I felt I had the entire film pegged, only to discover that what I'd thought was going to be some closely-held secret reserved for the climax, was in fact an intentional direction the director wanted me to head towards all along. One crucial twist surrounding Sam's accident comes surprisingly early in the movie, thus ruining my smug notion that I had already pegged the entire plot to come.
Now that's good filmmaking, folks!
I love movies that can take my premature assumptions and not just turn them on their head, but use these assumptions against each other to the point that I have to throw up my hands and just take what comes my way. :)
Sam Rockwell does an excellent job portraying a wide array of emotions and states of disarray. He sells this entire movie pretty much on his own shoulders, and HARD!!! Kevin Spacey as the sullen-toned AI servant/companion/caretaker is pure and simply a master study in acting through voice only, reminiscent somewhat of Alan Rickman's turn in Hitchhiker's--but much, MUCH better.
Another surprise is the polished and realistic look of the visuals. Simply put, a movie this low-budgeted (a rumored $5 million, which is paltry by comparison to any other sci-fi film being produced today) should not look THIS GOOD! The moonscape looks fantastic, the overhead top-down satellite shots appropriately eerie, the base interiors are utilitarian and simple, and the lighting is gorgeously soft and evocative! Also, last but not least, the inspired score by the wonderfully brilliant Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream; The Fountain) is both creepy and poignant at the same time, eerily reminiscent of the score to American Beauty, yet so perfect for the small, claustrophobic film that is Moon. If you want an idea, just watch the trailer for snippets of the score. I swear, I'm still humming the main tune in my head as I write this. Mansell has a knack for creating memorable themes that just won't leave you months, even YEARS, after hearing them.
To tell you to go see this movie is an understatement. But please do, if you can find it in a theater nearest you. And especially if you're into the type of sci-fi movies that don't involve aliens, explosions, laser-beams, or inaccurate science (which excludes like 90% of the genre, I know). If this is any indication of Duncan Jones's talent (and he co-wrote the story and script, one must add), then I've just become an avid follower of this new and promising director. Yay!!!