Moon, released in 2009, is a British science fiction film directed by Duncan Jones, who would later go on to direct Source Code and the upcoming Warcraft film. He was perhaps previously best-known for being the son of David Bowie, and oddly the film somehow seems to make more sense with this trivia in mind. Made for a tiny budget (in cinematic terms at least,) of c. $5,000,000, and gaining just under double that at the global box office, Moon was, and indeed still is, an under-viewed gem. It premiered at Sundance, before gaining a select release in some parts of the U.S, before its opening was expanded to other cinemas in the U.S and Canada, before coming to the U.K, where it was made. Nonetheless, Moon was still critically acclaimed by those who did see it, and indeed it gained many (though arguably not enough) accolades, most notably the BAFTA Award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer, as well as being nominated for the Outstanding British Film Award. But what makes Moon special?
First and foremost, it is the performances. Moon is such a deeply personal and humanly intimate film, and for such a film to succeed the performances need to be flawless, and indeed they are. It is not a large cast by any standard, which turns out to be one of the film’s greatest strengths – make no mistake, this is Sam Rockwell’s stage. The voice work of Kevin Spacey is of course excellent too, and harks back to decades of brilliant science fiction that explored ideas principally, though not exclusively, about artificial intelligence. 2001: A Space Odyssey is perhaps the most obvious, but by no means the only great sci-fi flick that comes to mind when watching it, for Moon explores far more ideas than the now bordering-on-cliché man vs. machine idea. If you have not seen it, it’s worth pointing out that it is utterly recommendable, but equally recommendable that you not watch any of its trailers or read up anything about it beforehand, as it is definitely a film that benefits from the viewer knowing as little as possible about it going into it.
Moon is as stylish and atmospheric as it is deep.
This is Sam Rockwell’s stage because he is acting perfectly not just against a voice that was added only in post-production – the voice of Kevin Spacey no less – but also because he is acting against, and with himself in many scenes. This is seamless and endlessly engaging, and it is done surprisingly cleverly, rather than the effect simply being a gimmick – it is fundamental to the story and even helps it evolve into dipping its toes into satirical territory, something that many great works of science fiction do. This is principally why, as mentioned earlier, it is a surprisingly humanly intimate film. The minor cast members’ acting is also great – powerful enough to make you really care about Rockwell’s character’s desire to return to them, and alongside his performance, they create a great empathetic cyclical effect.
Moon is as stylish and atmospheric as it is deep, alongside its rich acting. Clint Mansell’s score is fantastic, striking a balance between being utterly chilling and hauntingly beautiful, another theme of many great science fiction films. A similar result comes from the look and feel of the film – it’s a desolate, often bland landscape, but it is not lacking in dynamism because of this, in fact it provides a brilliant contrast to the intensity of the personal dramas and traumas of Rockwell’s character. It has its moments of humour too, but the bleakness is reflected in the pathos and darkness hiding behind this – Moon is at times, like its setting, a dark and lonely film, and indeed it has many a depressing and sad moment, executed excellently thanks to the effective combination of the stellar acting and enthralling atmosphere created by Jones and the production crew. Nonetheless, ‘the Walking on Sunshine moment’ is a great moment of light relief from what is a fundamentally dark film.
Moon achieves as a film because it is more than a straight-forward piece of science fiction. It of course ticks all of those boxes with regard to atmosphere and setting, the plot and character arcs, as well as reflecting and commenting on the non-cinematic reality in which it was made, but it also does more than this. Sure, the acting is great and it all looks atmospheric, but Moon is a great film because it is also a deeply affecting psychological drama, as well as being a great standalone science fiction film. Its heart is never lost amongst its spectacle, and for that, particularly coming from the sci-fi genre, it should be deeply admired.
By Oliver Rowe