Sam Bell is coming to the end of a three year contract that has seen him manning a lunar base mining Helium-3. His only companionship has been a computer named Gerty, and Sam is keen to return home to his wife and daughter. With two weeks to go, Sam crashes a lunar rover, and later discovers another Sam in the base. Is this new Sam real or a figment of his imagination?
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By now youíre probably aware of the big stories surrounding Moon, an independent science-fiction film with a budget of $5 million and directed by the son of David Bowie, Duncan Jones. But putting so much emphasis on the low cost or the family history of the director does a disservice to one of the best sci-fi movies released in the past decade.
Underrated leading man Sam Rockwell gets the chance to flex his acting muscles as Sam Bell, the lone human on a mining colony stationed on the dark side of the Moon. The only company on this isolated rock is a computer named Gerty, voiced by Kevin Spacey. After three years Sam is finally heading home - not a moment too soon, either, as he is beginning to suffer mild hallucinations.
Sam suffers a head injury when he crashes a lunar rover, and wakes in the medical bay with no memory of how he got there. Against Gertyís wishes he manages to leave the base, only to discover the crash site and another Sam. And things only get stranger from there. Iím reluctant to reveal too much more for fear of spoiling what is a finely crafted, twisting, confusing, satisfying story.
Given the small budget (miniscule when compared to other science fiction movies) there is very little CG work, Jones instead utilising miniatures for much of the external work and green screen for several shots. But that does not mean Moon lacks great technical flourishes. Very rarely have I seen two characters played by the same actor interact in the way the two Sams do, even touching and handing each other objects. Jones has explained that they were able to do this by filming Rockwell in two places, using a body doubleís limbs to record the physical interaction, and then combining the shots in post-production. Jim Cameron would have spent millions on such scenes; here it is done at incredibly little cost but to great effect.
But for all the technical wizardry, Moon would have been a complete failure if Sam Rockwell hadnít given such a remarkable performance. Not only does he brilliantly play multiple characters, he also had to show the intense loneliness and cracking mental stability of someone exiled from the rest of humanity. This is a challenge he more than meets, and with any luck this role will raise his profile more among mainstream moviegoers. Kevin Spacey as the voice of Gerty, the electronic Man Friday to Rockwellís Robinson Crusoe, is equally excellent. He infuses Gerty with a certain sense of humanity and a sympathy for Samís plight, but at the same time we are not allowed to forget that Gerty is a machine, only doing what ďheĒ has been programmed to do. Itís not an easy line to walk and I feel there arenít many actors who could have done as good a job of it as Spacey.
This is Duncan Jonesí first feature film, though he has a wealth of experience in commercials. This experience has clearly served him well, as we donít see the nervous jitters of a first-time director. Rather, Jones is willing to let the story play itself out without feeling the need to force things to any great degree. His enthusiasm for science fiction is evident in every scene, and he plans to return to this genre for his next film. That one will ask the question of how one can remain an individual in a suffocating society, but Moon asks a far more important question: what makes us who we are? And who are we, anyway?