Sunday, July 25, 2010

"Moon" (2009)

Starring Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey
Written by Duncan Jones and Nathan Parker
Directed by Duncan Jones

"Moon" is a 2009 sci-fi drama that reminds me a lot of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey."  Sam Rockwell stars as Sam Bell, a man contracted to spend three years alone on the moon, the sole crewmember of a base responsible for harvesting elements necessary for fusion energy on Earth.  As the end of his three year tour looms, Sam, suffering from an encroaching sickness and a mild psychosis, crashes his moonbuggy into one of the roving harvesters.

Consequently, Sam wakes up in the infirmary in the moon base.  His computerized personal assistant, GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) tells him he had an accident, but that memory loss is to be expected.  Sam soon begins to realize that something is not quite right, and takes a second buggy out to the malfunctioning rover.  There, he makes a shocking discovery: his injured body.

He takes his injured doppelganger back to the moon base, and the two begin to suspect that something really is quite wrong with their entire situation.   They accuse each other of being clones, neither one sure which is the real Sam Bell.  But they're also sure that GERTY is keeping something from them, and they suspect that the long-range communications "malfunction" may in fact be intentional to keep them from contacting anyone on Earth via live satellite feed.  As the two Sams overcome their differences, they formulate a plan to make it back to Earth before a "rescue" ship promised by the company on Earth arrives.  Both Sams are sure that the "rescue" will in fact be a team sent to kill them now that they've discovered the disturbing truth about their mission and the moon base itself.

Sam Rockwell gives an excellent performance.  The dual role he plays here is complex, since the two Sam Bells do have differing personalities.  He also must play one of them as he devolves into sickness, which adds another layer of difficulty.  But his performances both feel real and natural; Sam Bell has an everyman quality that is charming and likable.

Spacey's soothing tones help give a bit of life to the robotic GERTY.  "Moon" feels so much like "2001" at times, I kept expecting GERTY to go nuts and try to kill the Sams, like HAL.  But no, GERTY is programmed to help Sam, and that's exactly what he does, right down to the end.  In a move of simple genius, GERTY's "emotional" state is displayed through a series of emoticons on a small screen on his front.  It's a small, but excellent little detail in a movie full of small, excellent details. 

The moon base is an excellent set, with a realistic and lived-in feel to it.  The walls are white and cleanly designed, but scuffed and dirty in places, as are the doors.  Certain things don't work, or look like they've been working for a few years.  The film's visual effects are pretty minimal, but really well done; a mixture of miniature models and computer animation that's pretty seamless.  The models are excellently detailed and have good movement to them, as well. 

The real star of "Moon" is Rockwell's performance, though.  He really nails his dual parts, and even the few times where the script fails, he manages to pull it right along and back on pace.  "Moon" is a very effective, intriguing sci-fi drama.  It's the sort of film that doesn't often get made these days, when sci-fi mostly means battles and alien invasions.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, but a little more balance might be nice.  "Moon" is quite a welcome change of pace, and a well-made one at that.