Sunday, 9 August 2009


Amid the blitzkreig of summer blockbuster season, there is often precious little imagination flying around. Indeed, as the bullets whizz and audiences fizz, one may be struggling to find excitement worthy of note either.

Moon is the ultimate example in counter-programming. A lean, spare sci-fi that hearkens back to that of the 60s and 70s (pre Star Wars, ie use your brain), directed by Zowie Bowie aka Duncan Jones himself, it promises a lot. But does it deliver?

Sadly, despite the ever seductive tag of 'high concept', Moon follows a disappointingly literal minded route, bottling out instead of bouncing ideas, less Solaris, more...well, it's perhaps not best to reveal much more in terms of tone, as it's so intimately conjoined with the narrative as to risk major spoilers.

What little of the plot that can and should be revealed is this. Astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell, finally getting a lead role worthy of his considerable skills) is coming to the end of a gruelling, monontonous three year routine on the moon harvesting helium. Supplies are sent back to Earth to solve its energy crisis; Sam meanwhile operates out of his base with only a computer, GERTY (voiced with suitable ambivalance by Kevin Spacey) for company.

Things are running smoothly and not long is left before Sam can return to his wife and child. However, on a routine investigation to sort a malfunction on the lunar surface, Sam comes across a person stranded in a harvester: himself. It's not long before his mind begins to unravel, as answers don't seem to be forthcoming from GERTY. Has he gone mad? Are his corporate employers somehow responsible? And what are the implications for his future?

All are juicy, enticing themes for director Jones to get his teeth into in his debut feature. Building up an eerie Kubrickian sense of unease in the first half, all leisurely pans, background hums and low tech but incredibly effective model-based effects, the stage is set for a terrific cerebral thriller...

Then we hit the midway point and the answers, somewhat surprisingly, start to roll forward in a banal and predictable fashion. It's as if Jones got cold feet about his enterprise and so the film wrongfoots us not in terms of narrative but in terms of tone, forgoing the more compelling battle of man versus himself that it initially looked to set up.

This isn't to undermine the terrific efforts by the cast and crew. Rockwell in particular grabs his difficult role with open arms, differentiating the aspects of his character with subtle audio and physical ticks while also generating immense sympathy for the weatherbeaten Bell's plight. Add Rockwell to the shortlist of actors who effectively act against themselves.

Tech wise, Jones clearly wears his influences on his sleeves, at times a little too openly, with his effort coming across as a cobbled together collage of earlier classics. The sleek white interiors of the moon base are very 2001; the lumbering space vehicles could be taken from Alien; and the HAL-like GERTY is...well, you get the picture. Clint Mansell's score makes the best case for originality, a pulsing, ambient heartbeat behind proceedings. If only the storyline dared to provoke, as well as engage, in such a careful, understated manner.

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