Science Fiction tends to belong to one of two categories; the first of which can be called 'soft sci-fi' and tends to revolve around using science fiction as an excuse for story telling, or more often as an excuse for explosions and flying cars - Demolition Man, Ghost Busters, Pitch Black and Pretty Woman are examples of this. The second is 'hard sci-fi' and tends to use more "realistic" near science to explore present day issues, often taking an unusual viewpoint on what it is which makes us human, or highlighting the atrocities humanity inflicts upon itself on a daily basis - Blade Runner and 2010 stand up here and show their chops.
There have also been films which straddle the line between the two with ease (Terminator 2 and Alien for example), but Moon is a film that definitely places itself in the 'hard' category with a story that takes a long look at many issues, both current and potential.
It's the story of one Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), an astronaut who's about to finish his three year stint on the far side of the moon. A stretch which has been spent isolated and alone with nothing other than the lunar base computer GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) plus the occasional video message from Lunar Industries (the company who owns the base) and his wife Tess and young daughter Eve. It's been a lonely time for Sam and he's eager to return to Earth and start living a normal life again - three years is too long to be so alone.
But an accident reveals something startling to Sam, something which brings everything he comes to understand into question, and rapidly he discovers the truth about his time on the moon.
Warning... Beyond this link lurk heavy spoilers which will reveal major points about the film, click at your own risk...
Watching the film is a little confusing at first, I did find myself wondering what the 'hook' would be for the first 'act' of the film. Initially the film suggests that it's about finding resources to solve the world's problems, harvesting helium-3 from the Moon's surface and dispatching it to Earth in order to provide limitless energy. It then dances along the edge of the 'supernatural' with a few strange incidents that suggest paranormal events, before settling in for an examination of cloning.
Once I realised that this was the focus of the film I was able to settle back and enjoy it more fully, it's during this section that the best performances come from Sam Rockwell. He spends the rest of the movie interacting with himself (and occasionally GHERTY) both verbally and physically - showcasing a great acting range as the second, newer, Sam-Clone is younger and angrier; while the "original" clone is both dying and a far more world (moon?) weary individual who's developed skills and tempered his anger.
The camera work throughout this section is likewise fantastic, you've got one man interacting with himself in a variety of methods which show a level of sophistication way beyond the old 'split screen clones' of the past. It's entertaining the number of ways the film likes to "show off" by having Sam move around and even touch himself.
But for me, the most important part of this film is the way it makes you think. It's a film about exploitation of resources, at first it's the Moon which is being exploited - that's a fairly harmless thing and easy to accept. But it does mean you're jarred greatly when you discover that Sam himself is nothing more than a resource, a three year clone designed to live out a miserable existence under the false assumption that he'll be returning home to his wife and daughter at the end of it. The truth of the matter is that each clone lasts just three years before dying and Sam is the fifth such clone - the fifth out of what seems to be hundreds.
You're left with the question of morality and ethics, which is additionally compounded with the revelation that the original Sam is living on Earth and is (assumed) compliant in this entire operation. His wife Tess implicates the pair of them with her involvement in the video messages to Sam-Clone #5 (The "Original Clone" in the movie. These people have been bred for the purpose of mining the Moon and are lied to about their whole existence and while their work is of huge benefit to all of humanity you're left asking about the cost.
I can't finish up here without mentioning GHERTY, the lunar A.I. with emoticons that is voiced by Spacey. He's a fantastic character; exhibiting a combination of programmed desires, needs and orders. All of which come together to give you a creature which is totally compliant in the entire operation, but can't be judged for it's actions because it's a limited machine with boundaries to it's understanding.
I also like it when a film bucks my expectations, I half wondered if GHERTY would pull a HAL 9000 on Sam and was thrilled to discover that it was instead able to adapt it's programming enough to assist the Sams in their voyage of discovery.
The one thing I feel somewhat let the film down was the final dialog over the scenes of Sam #6 travelling back to Earth. It wrapped things up a little too neatly for my taste, I would have prefered to wonder about the events and be left to draw my own conclusions. It's a minor point, but for a film which raises so many questions to the viewer I personally felt that I could have done without being given the answers at the end.
So is "Moon" any good? The short answer is a simple one, it is - it's a fantastic film with something quite significant to say. The message is both strong and meaningful on many levels. But it's certainly not a film for everyone, it's a character driven piece and while the pace is strong - it's not going to wow someone who's looking for action and explosions. Instead this is a film for the science fiction reader, it's one for those of you who like to sit and think about what you've just watched.
It's one of the best films I've had the pleasure of watching this year.
The DVD set itself comes with an impressive set of extras.
- Commentary with Writer/Director Duncan Jones, Director of Photography Gary Shaw, Concept Designer Gavin Rothery and Production Designer Tony Noble
- Commentary with Writer/Director Duncan Jones and Producer Stuart Fenegan
- "Whistle" a Short Film by Duncan Jones (28 minutes long)
- The Making of Moon
- Creating the Visual Effects
- Science Center Q&A with Director Duncan Jones
- Filmmaker's Q&A at the Sundance Film Festival
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 Anamoprhic Widescreen
Run time: 1h 33mins approx
Soundtrack: 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English (HOH), English, Hindi