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Moon (2009)

by on 2012/01/03

“Is there someone else in the room?”

* * * *

Writer-director Duncan Jones’ Moon is a piece I’ve wanted to see for quite a while. When you’ve got your selections narrowed down many months in advance, it’s not always easy to fit in new acquisitions.

Such is the esteem in which this film is held, it jumped up through the ranks nonetheless. I considered it for last November but, when the days began to dwindle, I decided to bump it to January’s science fiction. Although it left me not a little depressed, I’m grateful to have finally seen it.

The story concerns astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell of Everybody’s Fine), who is stationed on the Earth’s moon. He’s charged with maintaining Helium-3 mining operations when the robots aren’t up to the task. Usually, they’re controlled by an artificial intelligence engine, GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey of The Ref).

Sam is growing tired. After three years of isolation, estranged from his wife and daughter, he’s burning out and talking to himself. He’s scheduled to return home in two weeks. All the same, he can’t muster up much energy or enthusiasm. He’s becoming increasingly concerned.

Video communications appear to jump erratically. Flashes of different images are interposed within others. His wife’s messages contradict themselves. His dreams grow stranger and impinge on waking life, dangerously distracting.

When questioned about these goings-on, GERTY becomes frustratingly obtuse. Is it a lack of awareness, apathy, or something else again? The obvious point of comparison is HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. In fact, this production resembles it in several substantial ways: the look and feel of the habitat, the setting, and the deliberate sense of pacing, and yet Moon doesn’t ever risk creaking into boredom.

It’s a seemingly realistic scenario, whatever its true veracity, with a believable balance between a futuristic sheen and the grit of well-worn use. The visuals, sets, costumes, and props are as modest as they are moderate, proof you don’t need a blockbuster budget to create a compelling reality. (Some might even argue they are difficult to reconcile.)

This feature is a font of intriguing ideas, its craft benefiting from its era. Now we can achieve its alien landscapes and other, more subtle effects without the expenses stealing focus from the script and characters. It’s not cheap-looking, and is rarely unconvincing — except in one (ping-pong) sequence — but I joked in mid-viewing the greatest expense must have been Spacey’s voice-over bill.

It occurs to me I have said very little. I don’t want to deprive Moon of its charms. Know that it’s worth seeking out for thoughtful sci-fi fans. It’s possible to become jaded when revisiting old favourites, or seeing the same cliches recycled . . . an unfortunate shortage of wonder and surprise. This movie has both in abundance. It’s not necessarily a thrilling experience, but it’s sympathetic and satisfying.

* * * *

Rated 14A (Canada) / R (United States)

97 minutes

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