Sunday, July 19, 2009


Duncan Jones's Moon stars Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell, the sole human being employed at a mining station at the title location by a corporation called Lunar Industries. Sam is weeks away from completing a three-year stint that will end with the arrival of his replacement and his return to Earth. He's settled into a hermit's existence, kibbutzing with "Gerty", an all-purpose computer gofer with the voice of Kevin Spacey, letting his hair and beard grow out for weeks at a time, then getting a shave and a haircut to check in with his family and company masters back on Earth via telescreen conferences. Then...something happens. It would be unfair to give too many plot details away, since Moon, with its limited cast and scenic options, needs all the surprises it can hold in reserve. But the movie does turn on the idea that, in the future, technological advances will make work in space routine, grubby, even tedious, and that the corporations on whose behalf this work is performed may regard their intergalactic labor force less as Buck Rogers heroes than as insects whose air supply can easily be cut off if they present any inconveniences. In interviews, Jones has gone out of his way to pay tribute to the movies that plowed this line of speculation in the past, including 2001 but also such later sci-fi films as Silent Running, Alien, and Outland. Back in Kubrick's day, the idea that anything about life in outer space could ever become so routinized that it might become boring was a fresh joke, and even then, there were scenes in 2001 that maybe went beyond the call of duty in showing just how boring things in space could get. (There's a reason that it's not easy to recall, just of the top of your head, what's the second best movie starring either Keir Dullea or Gary Lockwood.) It takes a special kind of genius to depict tedium without seeming tedious, and in fact, tedium is something that Moon has plenty of.

Moon does have the look and feel of a labor of love. Jones shot it in 33 days, on a tight schedule, at England's Shepperton Studios, and he and his team, which includes the production designer Tony Noble, the art director Hideki Arichi, and the cinematographer Gary Shaw, did a hell of a job, especially on the interiors of the base where Rockwell and his robot sidekick make their home. (Outside, the miniatures used for the rovers that tootle across the lunar surface look very much like toys. This aspect of the film is not without its charms, compared the glossy hollowness of so much CGI animation, but it doesn't do much for the movie's attempt to sustain the illusion of where we are.) The look of the movie is hermetic and businesslike; it looks lived-in and smells of stale air. Jones is obviously taken with the idea of what it would be like to spend years of yourself trying to keep yourself amused in this dead, lonely environment without choking to death on the packaged food and fluorescent light. The only problem is that he's perfectly achieved an environment that would be convincingly horrible to live in, and failed to supply much in the way of the distraction from this nightmare that some more characters and knottier plot threads could have provided. As soon as you've had some time to admire the effort that went into creating this world, you're as eager to get the hell away from it as Sam.

Moon is Sam Rockwell's one-man show; he's really the only person in it. It might have been fun to see a flashy actor like the Kevin Spacey of old in this role; he could have really broken a sweat to keep you watching. (Spacey's voice performance as Gerty basically comes down to the inside joke of hearing Spacey, the most untrustworthy actor imaginable, spending the whole movie sounding solicitous. Compared to such precursors as 2001's HAL 9000 and Alien's Mother, Gerty is probably the nicest all-powerful electronic intelligence in the genre's history, but it's hard to put your trust in it, just because it sounds like Verbal Kint.) Rockwell is an amusing, likable actor, but here he doesn't supply enough presence of invention to hold you on his own. A talented comedian, Rockwell was well cast in the Star Trek spoof Galaxy Quest, in which he played an actor who, thrust into an actual sci-fi adventure, rebelled--pettishly, with his voice set at full whine--against his identity as the guy who's added to the regular group of characters so there'll be someone to kill off. When things go badly for Sam Bell, Rockwell turns in limply upon himself, and for long stretches doesn't even have anyone to whine at. And Hunt and his screenwriter, Nathan Parker, are too vague on the details of how the company's three-year plans work; you get the feeling that nobody is ever supposed to make it back to Earth at all, which makes it odd that there is in fact a functional escape pod handy. Moon has details you can drink in and a faint, dreamy emotional ache (amplified by the score by Clint Mansell), but the stuff that the details and atmosphere should be there to serve--the people and the story-- never come into focus. It feels more like the work of a hobbyist than an artist. As a moviemaker, Jones builds a great ship in a bottle.

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