Sunday, 15 November 2009

DVD Review: Moon

Good science-fiction films - proper science-fiction films not set in a Galaxy far,far away or else inspired by a popular range of kid's toys - are a bit like buses. You wait an age for one and then, lo, two come along at once. Or, for the purposes of this analogy, two in a year. Which, frankly, is two more than we usually get. Chances are you probably saw Neill Blomkamp's 'District 9' - about a giant alien spaceship full of alien 'prawns' suspended over Johannesburg and the eviction officer infected by alien DNA during the repatriation process because it became the darling of the genre and tabloid Press. It was good but it wasn't that good. Sadly Duncan Jones' debut feature, a science-fiction movie called 'Moon' didn't get the same treatment, despite being regarded by those who saw it as a bit of a cult classic in the making. Now 'Moon' gets its own shot (geddit?) at glory as it hits DVD and Blu Ray and, hopefully, finds a wider and more appreciative audience than it managed in theatres.

Actually, the home viewing experience is probably where 'Moon; comes into its own. It's a much smaller, more intimate movie than most in its genre. despite its 200+ visual effects sequences, 'Moon' isn't about spectacle, it's about humanity and, to quote a well-worn and sometimes rather tedious cliche, it's about the nature of humanity and...gulp...what it means to be human. Seriously. 'Moon' stars the superb Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell, a space engineer coming to the end of his three-year stint as supervisor of a Lunar Industries base mining a vital source of energy from the dark side of the moon. His only company is Gerty, the base's cool sentient computer (voiced by Kevin Spacey). Not unnaturally Sam's going a bit stir crazy and is looking forward to his return to Earth and his wife and young family. But an accident out on the moon's surface changes everything; knocked unconscious when his lunar rover crashes, Sam wakes up in the base's infirmary, being tended by Gerty. But he's no longer the only human on the moon base. But in a sense, he is...

Channelling similarly-themed deep space 'solitary man' movies like 'Silent Running' and 'Solaris', 'Moon' is a strange, dislocating and uneasy film. It's not exciting in the traditional sci-fi style but then it's not supposed to be. It's a movie which intrigues and captivates, drawing you into the story and Sam's dilemma despite the fact there's little real sense of danger or palpable threat. Here's a man who is unravelling through solitude and neither he nor the audience can really ever be completely certain what's real and what's pure fanciful imagination. For Sam awakes to find himself joined by a clone of himself and before long he realises that he, too, is a clone, one in a long line of Sams engineered to man the base, replaced when damaged or worn out, their individuality and humanity buried long ago. Aware of the truth of himself and yet struggling to accept it, Sam is devastated to find out that time has passed, his wife on Earth is long-dead, his baby daughter now a teen who doesn't know him, and that his entire life is both meaningless and lifeless. Sam and the next clone Sam clash but ultimately work together for the sake of their own 'lives', the clock ticking as a relief ship approaches from Earth.

Writer/director Duncan Jones (he wrote the script especially for Rockwell when the actor told him he'd love to make a science-fiction movie) handles the dense and yet sparse narrative with style, the camera prowling around the cramped, stark lunar base set and what a joy to see a return to traditional special effects values with the table-top lunarscape models, the lunar rover trundling across the dusty regolith and the great clunky, ugly spaceshiop landing at the base in the film's final moments. The FX here remind us yet again of what we've lost in the age of CGI as modelwork has a realism and believability no amount of hurtling pixels can replicate. And of course this is Rockwell's film (there are a few other performers such as benedict Wong and Matt berry from 'The IT Crowd') but the movie stands or falls by Rockwell's performance and he's mesmerising here as both Sam and his clone replacemnent; the former is battered and bloodied after his lunar accident, the latter fresh and clean and newborn and as yet unsullied by the pressure of a lonely existence millions of miles from home. Rockwell inhabits Sam (both of them) and it's probably the most electrifying and real performance I've seen in a genre movie in years.

'Moon' is a film you'll want to watch more than once and I suspect it's a movie which will reveal more and more of itself on repeat viewing. I'm currently watching a review disc of the 'Transformers' sequel and, one hour in, my senses are black and blue from the visual and aural overload and my brain is leaking out of the side of my head from the vacuity of the script. 'Moon' is the absolute and perfect antidote to mindless popcorn stuff like this. Beautifully-crafted, sensitively-filmed and with a mesmerising central performance and subtle visual effects, 'Moon' is a genre film to cherish.

The DVD: Not the most colourful film you'll ever see but the cold moonscape and the functional greys and whites of the moon base are pinsharp clear on DVD. Copious extras too with two commentaries (both featuring Jones), an early Jones short, a coiuple of short but interesting 'making ofs' and a couple of Q&A sessions.

'Moon' is released on DVD and Blu Ray on 16th November 2009 in the UK.

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