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2009 Catch-Up: Josh Reviews Moon

Though 2009 is well in the past, I’m still trying to find time to watch those 2009 films that I missed (some of which I listed when writing my Best Films of 2009 list).  At the top of my I-really-wanted-to-see-it-but-never-did list from 2009 was Duncan Jones’ little sci-fi film, Moon.

When I say “little,” I am referring only to the budget (5 million dollars).  Because in no other way is Moon a “little” film.  No, Moon is a phenomenal achievement, and it surely would have made my Best Films of the Year list had I seen it in time.

It’s the near future, and the great Sam Rockwell (Galaxy Quest, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Frost/Nixon) plays Sam Bell, working alone in a small helium-3 mining station on the moon.  His only companion is the station’s computer, Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey, perfectly cast).  Sam is nearing the end of his three-year contract and is anticipating his return to Earth and to his family.  Of course, it’s not going to be that simple.

I’ve barely said anything about the film’s story, but I really think that’s for the best.  This is a film best appreciated going in cold, without knowing any of the plot twists.  Suffice it to say, when a distracted Sam crashes one of the station’s small rovers, he unwittingly sets into motion a chain of events that leads to things quickly going more and more awry in his once-efficient little moon station.

Moon is an acting tour-de-force for Sam Rockwell.  With the exception of a few other people glimpsed briefly on computer monitors, Sam is the only character on screen for the entire film.  But he dominates the screen so thoroughly that I didn’t even really consider that fact until well after the film had ended.  Mr. Rockwell has always been known for bringing a particularly idiosyncratic brand of humanity to the flawed array of characters he has portrayed on screen, and his Sam Bell in this film is a spectacular example.  Once the plot gets going, Sam’s ordered life starts to fall down around his ears, and the way Mr. Rockwell brings to life his increasing desperation, and also his surprising inner reservoirs of strength, is wonderful.  Shame on the Academy for not nominating this spectacular acting performance!!

Writer/director Duncan Jones jokes in the DVD’s special features that the most recent example of an “indie” sci-fi movie that he can think of is Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, which was made for around 50 million dollars. Moon was made for 5 million.  To say that my jaw was on the floor when I learned that this movie was made for such a miniscule budget would be an understatement.  Every single cent of that budget is up on screen, and I would argue that Moon could hold its own with any other big-budget sci-fi film made for many times its budget.  The exterior effects shots are beautiful, and the interior of Sam’s moon station is wonderfully realized.  Then there is Gerty, brought to life through a fiendishly clever combination of visual tricks and just a tiny dash of CGI (not to mention Kevin Spacey’s unique voice).  Bravo to all of the filmmakers and artists involved in this film.

I’m a big sci-fi fan, and I have often lamented on this site how rare it is to find intelligent, adult sci-fi made for the big screen these days.  Moon is all of those things in spades, and I suspect that even non sci-fi fans would really dig this movie, if they gave it a shot.  I am so glad to have seen it, and I can’t wait to see it again.

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