We took in the new film Moon today, and it is worthy of substantial discussion. The main reason I feel that way is the simple fact that this film is likely to sink quickly into obscurity in the glare of current films that have bigger stars, bigger budgets, and far more hype around them, so I’d like to speak out on behalf of this interesting, intelligent, and well-made movie.
Moon comes under the broadly defined genre of science fiction, but it has precious little in common with films such as Transformers, Star Trek, or an adaptation of a Marvel comic book. That’s not a knock on those films; it’s just not what Moon is about. It is what Roger Ebert refers to as “thinking man’s science fiction.” While there are plenty of special effects, I must report that there are no big explosions and no extended chase scenes. OK, there is a collision between a moon rover and a mining machine, but nobody gets killed in the accident. Aside from that, the most violent moment is a brief fistfight. Oh, and there’s also a moment when a character accidentally scalds himself with hot water, but that’s about it for violence.
The film is almost completely dominated by Sam Rockwell’s character, Sam Bell. Bell is the one person running a substantial mining operation on the Earth’s moon. He’s nearing the end of a 3-year hitch and is starting to go a little stir crazy and can’t wait to get back to his wife and family on Earth. But with the days counting down to a few short weeks… well, some very startling occurrences change everything, and far be it from me to drop any spoilers in this space.
The film embodies elements from a great many of its sci-fi predecessors, including Blade Runner, Alien, Solaris, and a couple episodes of The Twilight Zone, but it is most consistently evocative of 2001: A Space Odyssey, particularly in the character of Gertie, Sam’s robot companion (voiced by Kevin Spacey). Speaking of borrowed elements, one couldn’t help wondering whether the robot’s name might have been borrowed from the name of Drew Barrymore’s character in ET.
Yet even in the face of all these influences, Moon manages to create its own unique identity and tone. It is enjoyably engrossing and causes a few genuine gasps. One can walk out of the theater afterward feeling that one’s intelligence has been respected, and that one’s investment of time, money, and attention has been rewarded. In spite of the well-realized moonscapes and fantastical plot developments, this is at heart a quiet, thoughtful film. There’s plenty of action as well, but it’s generally the sort of intensely focused action a person will pursue when they have no one to help them and their course of action is clear, albeit harrowing. In the aforementioned glare of bigger movies with bigger stars and bigger noises, this one doesn’t figure to show up in any prominent way on Oscar night (though Sam Rockwell gives a solid, well crafted performance), but I want to give it a firm recommendation.
Note— Moon was directed and co-written by Duncan Jones, who began life as Zowie Bowie. Yes, that would be David Bowie’s son. I have resisted the powerful temptation to reference “Space Oddity,” only because I fear it has already been done to death by other scribes.