For the first two thirds of it’s running time, Duncan Jones interesting Sci-Fi mystery MOON keeps you guessing and constantly overachieves. It’s one of the best-looking films I’ve ever seen with a $5 million budget, using practical and model effects very effectively to evoke its setting.
The reliably great Sam Rockwell stars as Sam Bell, nearing the end of his three-year contract as the sole human occupant at a fuel harvesting station on the lunar surface.
His only companion is GERTY, a blocky but helpful machine that glides through the station like a mobile crane. A small screen features an emoji face that expresses what GERTY is feeling.
Voiced by Kevin Spacey, the machine is a friendlier HAL, always wanting to help.
Sam may need some help.
He’s starting to hallucinate, with waking dreams of his wife and daughter on Earth.
The hallucinations become distractions and one causes a major accident with the massive mobile harvesters.
He wakes up back in the base infirmary, with GERTY hovering.
Sam is confused. When GERTY tells him a rescue team is on the way to clean up the accident, he travels back out to the crash site and makes a startling find within the wreckage.
Is he dreaming?
What exactly is going on here?
Writer/Director Duncan Jones (the real-life son of David Bowie and a talented filmmaker) builds real suspense and intrigue into Sam’s discoveries and is so good at creating the confines of the lunar base that you feel trapped alongside Sam not only in his confines, but in his confusion.
Jones created this film specifically for Rockwell and that pays off, as the actor delivers time and time again, in more ways than one.
Most of the special effects are model work, including the use of old moonscape models from “Space:1999”. Many of the shots made me miss this kind of work. It’s more like imperfect art than all the gleaming pixels of CGI, but somehow perfect for Jones’ vision.
The last half hour of the film fell off a cliff for me, getting mired in some plot points that don’t quite payoff, but overall, it’s a clever, beautifully acted drama. Rockwell delivers a moon-based take on Hanks in “Castaway”, having the screen to himself for most of the film. It’s only when other people begin to appear with him that you can feel the film’s magic slipping away.
Still, this is an interesting and thoughtful movie, Rockwell’s superb and it’s a case study on delivering a “big” looking film on a small budget.
The song on Sam’s alarm clock, “The One and Only” has certainly never been so ironic.
MOON earns a B-.