Ten years later, Moon is still indie sci-fi at its best
While big-budget blockbusters tend to get most of the attention within the sci-fi genre, there are many hidden gems that find different ways to shine. Moon is one of these (mostly) hidden gems. Released ten years ago in June 2009, Moon is the directorial debut of Duncan Jones. It’s an indie sci-fi film that puts everything it has into a clever premise that slowly unfolds within a brief 97-minute runtime. You won’t find any mind-blowing special effects or giant CGI monsters here (not that there’s anything wrong with those things). What you will find is a well-crafted story with an excellent lead performance by Sam Rockwell.
Rockwell plays an astronaut named Sam Bell. He is nearing the end of his contractual three-year mission for a company called Lunar Industries. Sam is the sole member of this mission, working and living on a moon-based manufacturing facility. His job is to harvest helium-3, a precious energy source that is used most abundantly on Earth. (Even though Moon has been out for ten years, I will keep things spoiler-free here. While this film has a decent following of fans, I’m sure there are still plenty of people who need to catch up with it. Fortunately, there’s still plenty to talk about here without needing to give away too much.)
After Sam crashes his rover while retrieving a helium-3 canister, he wakes up to find that he’s not alone. It’s at this point when the script really takes an interesting turn. We get a sort-of twist fairly early on in the runtime. Once this little twist takes place, we start to continuously question everything that we see from there on out. We question Lunar Industries, Sam himself (in more ways than one), and GERTY, his robot assistant (more on him later).
Sam Rockwell is the reason everything here works so well. The script is ingenious and completely unpredictable; but this whole thing doesn’t work without a great lead performance from Rockwell. It’s really impressive considering that he doesn’t have many characters to interact with, besides GERTY and… Sam himself. There really is a level of difficulty in this nuanced performance that got mostly overlooked during its time of release.
Other than Rockwell, Kevin Spacey is the only other actor with a prominent role here. Spacey voices the robot assistance, GERTY. There’s really nothing all that special about his voice work. In fact, it would be great if they released a version with a different voice-over so that we could remove Spacey from the film all together. Sometimes it’s hard to separate art from reality. You try not to let a great film get ruined by the presence of someone who you know is an awful person. But reality is hard to ignore sometimes. The presence of Spacey’s voice didn’t actually ruin the movie for me by any means, but he’s just one of those people you would rather not see or hear from ever again. But hey, at least we don’t actually see Spacey on screen here.
Getting back to Moon itself, it’s a thought-provoking film that showed a lot of promise in Director Duncan Jones. Jones is patient with Moon as he lets us in on the truth with several small revelations that are spaced out nicely throughout the film. He shows some really nice touches with pacing. There’s a unique build-up of tension that he subtly creates throughout the film. And while I don’t think his career has taken off the way I thought it would (Moon is still my favorite of his up to this point), Jones does show flashes of greatness in some of his other work. Source Code (2011) is mostly solid up until a disappointing ending. Warcraft (2016) has its fans, but I don’t think this film was really geared towards someone like me who never played the game. And Mute (2018), which is apparently set in the same universe as Moon, did some interesting things; but it was mostly a disappointment. This isn’t to say I won’t be excited to see his next project. He is definitely capable of putting out something great. It’s just that I will be measuring it up to Moon, which set a pretty high bar.