If you’re going to make a sci-fi movie, you could do worse than to be the son of David Bowie, Mr. Space Oddity himself, who also starred in The Man Who Fell To Earth: well, classic movies like his father’s acting zenith was very much the inspiration for Duncan Jones’ Moon, a film so retro you could well be in a time warp.
The film stars Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell, an astronaut about to finish his three-year mission on board the Salang Moon Base, where he’s been helping to harvest energy from the surface of the planet to use back on Earth. But strange visions start to haunt him, and he has a terrible accident with a harvester. When he wakes up, he is greeted by his robotic pal Gerty3000 (voiced by Kevin Spacey) and another Sam Bell. So starts an eerie tale of self-discovery.
Moon excels in being a sci-fi where very little actually happens. Despite the strange scenario that the original Sam finds himself in, he adapts and we are exposed to the tedium and monotony of everyday life. He builds a model village, tends to a few plants, and plays ping-pong – he’s had so much time to do this that he’s become a pro. The isolation can be felt by the audience too. Despite the relative space in Salang, and the high-key white light that engulfs the whole facility, the whole place seems enclosed and claustrophobic. This sense of being trapped develops through the film. The camera works hard to find itself in awkward, small spaces (beside a toilet, in the small gap between Sam and the control panel, on the floor in the shower, above the cramped sleeping space… the list goes on!) This just adds to the tension and mistrust between the two Bells, and heightens the sense that in some way they are both losing their minds, underpinned by the haunting score.
Despite the very limited cast of characters, Moon is acted brilliantly: Rockwell does well to carry the slightly differing personality traits of the two Bells, and Spacey’s flat tone does justice to the fact that Gerty is simply a machine, built to serve Sam. Duncan Jones does really well to make the copies convincing, sometimes using body-doubles to stand in for Rockwell, but other times, such as the still above, the achievement of placing the two Sams in the same room, facing the camera, without being able to see any joins or shakiness in the technology used. It really is a great feat, considering that this is a small-scale production for a sci-fi.
As I previously mentioned, Jones obviously loves his classic sci-fi movies, as there are a massive amount of influences that you can spot buried here. To name a few, Sam’s tending for his plants echoes the way that Huey, Dewey and Louie look after Earth’s last nature reserve in Silent Running. The monotony of Sam’s everyday life is clearly inspired by Dark Star (although a lot more actually happens in Dark Star than in Moon). The visions that Sam sees and the attachment he feels to his family back on Earth are both similar to Solaris. Jones also gives homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey in the movie, from the name “Gerty3000” (very similar to Hal3000), to the movie poster that is reminiscent of the approach to the shuttle, and on to the final scene where Sam’s face is lit up with colours, a direct link to 2001, which shares nearly exactly the same final scene. Sci-fi fans will know then that Moon is nothing particularly new or groundbreaking, but you have to appreciate that this is a story about life and the you have to applaud its stunningly high production values.
It’s a welcome change of pace from the high-octane, special-effects-laden sci-fi movies that we’re all so used to now. And this probably explains why Moon did so poorly at the Box Office. But then again, most truly great movies fail to gain a large audience and most people who originally saw posters for the film were probably put off by its sci-fi genre. But don’t let the location put you off: this is more a claustrophobic tale of mortality and what it means to be human. And that could beat frenetic space battles any day.