The View From Here

First Look -- Sam Rockwell in Moon

Michael Bonner

In an era where science fiction movies are, perhaps aptly, about pushing forward the boundaries of digital technology, it’s refreshing to find a movie like Moon, which seemingly makes a virtue of its analog approach to film making. This is, I think, the first film to rely almost completely on model work, as opposed to CGI, since Blade Runner in 1982. In fact, on almost every level, Moon is retrofitted sci-fi, most conspicuously indebted to movies like Silent Running, Solaris, 2001 and Alien. It’s almost as if Star Wars never happened.

We’re in the future, on the dark side of the moon, where astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is coming to the end of a three-year contract mining Helium-3, Earth’s sole energy source. He spends his time watching video messages from his family (there is a problem with the communications satellite to Earth, which means he can’t talk to anyone in real time), and his only companion is Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey), the lunar base’s benign computer. Things, inevitably, take a turn for the worst. Sam begins to get ill; then, on a drive in a lunar rover, an accident occurs. Sam finds himself back in the base’s medical centre, where he’s understandably surprised to meet another Sam. Is this second Sam a clone, or a hallucination – and, of course, which is the real Sam anyway?

There’s plenty to commend Moon, not least the how-did-they-do-that? factor of getting Rockwell to act opposite himself (the only visible bit of computer trickery in the film). Rockwell, an excellent supporting actor rarely given the chance to step up to leading man status, brings subtle differences to the Sams, defining them as two, distinct people.

Sam, who we first meet with a trucker’s beard wearing grubby grey overalls, looks like one of the blue collar working types familiar from the crew of Alien’s Nostromo. Gerty, clearly a shabbier HAL from 2001, is covered in Post-It notes (one of the back of the robot reads “Kick Me”) and a small terminal on its front has a small screen that displays simple faces – Smiley, Frown, and so on – as mood indicators. Gerty, it’s safe to say, is not some sleek supercomputer. And Sam is not necessarily the smartest guy to have ever boldly gone into space.

One thing I most admired about Moon is director Duncan Jones awareness of the limitations of his budget (around $5m). There are, I think, five sets in the lunar base; the model work is used sparingly and effectively. $5 million would probably only just about cover the cost of Michael Bay’s suits for a year; here Jones turns such a small amount it into the film’s virtue: by working on limited sets, he creates an atmosphere that succeeds in being both intimate and, as the truth about the multiple Sams unsfolds, claustrophobic.

The film touches on notions of identity, corporate manslaughter, and asks, you know, those fundamental big questions: Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got? There is something here, too, of Blade Runner’s idea of built-in obsolescence. At just over 90 minutes, it’s a brisk trot, but Jones never does the material disservice. He gets in, makes his point, and gets out again with the minimum of fuss and considerable impact. The final scenes with the two Sams are gently moving and deliberately understated.

A small fact, now you’ve got through most of this review. Duncan Jones might be better known by his birth name: Zowie Bowie. At a time where the tabloids are full of mini Geldofs, Osbornes and such falling out of nightclubs in the wee small hours, I’m hard pressed to think of a celebrity offspring who’s achieved something of such note. Excellent stuff.

Moon opens in the UK on July 17
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