Moon (UK - BD)
Chris takes a look at the small little film that has taken the sci-fi world by storm...
Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is a Lunar Industries employee contracted to extract helium-3 from the surface of the Moon to be used in the production of clean energy back on Earth. Sam has left behind his wife Tess and a three-year-old daughter, Eve. Sam’s only companion is a robotic assistant named GERTY (Kevin Spacey), and damage to the station’s communications satellite limits contact with Earth to only the occasional pre-recorded message. Two weeks before completing his three year contract Sam begins to hallucinate, catching brief glimpses of a teenage girl on the station and later on the lunar surface during a helium-3 harvesting mission. Distracted, Sam crashes his rover into the harvester, and is barely able to don his life-support suit before the atmosphere vents into space.
Some time later Sam awakens in the infirmary where GERTY tells him that he is recovering from injuries sustained in the crash. However, Sam becomes suspicious when he overhears a live communication between GERTY and Lunar Industries , during which he learns that GERTY will not allow him to leave the confines of the base. A further message from Lunar Industries informs him that a rescue crew is on the way to repair the harvester and take him home, but a distrustful Sam sabotages a gas pipe to force GERTY into allowing him outside. Instead of repairing the pipe Sam goes to investigate the damaged harvester, where he makes a startling discovery—another Sam Bell, clinging to life in the crushed remains of the very same rover that he himself was rescued from…
Moon is one of those rare beasts—a film that I knew almost nothing about before I watched it at the cinema. I enjoyed it very much at the time, and besides the obvious comparisons with Silent Running I found that it also evoked memories of the first time I saw Alien and Blade Runner. While it doesn't share much in common with those films on a narrative level, the overall approach to the work feels similar. Everything is presented in a realistic, gritty way—the sort of 'used future' that George Lucas envisioned for the original Star Wars—and this grounds the film in reality (albeit a reality where man is mining on the Moon). Sam Rockwell’s brilliant performance is the highlight, carrying, as he does, virtually the entire film himself, and his interactions with GERTY are both hilarious and heart-warming.
I’ll be honest and admit that I initially expected the film to go one way, only for it to head down a more conventional path. This surprised me at the time because I thought that some of the more interesting ideas were not fully explored, but it’s clear that Duncan Jones didn’t set out to make the sort of picture I thought I was watching. No, this is straight-ahead sci-fi shrouded in a veil of misdirection, but it’s still extremely well executed. My second run through didn’t really change my opinion of the film, but I did find myself questioning some of the logic in greater detail. There are a number of nagging plot points that made me think ‘why would they do that?’, but even so, this is an assured independent film that becomes all the more impressive when you learn that it had a budget of only five million dollars. In a year filled with mega-hyped damp squib blockbusters, Moon made for a refreshing change of pace.
As you'd expect from such a recent film, Moon's 2.40:1 widescreen transfer (1080/24p AVC) is in extremely good shape. The film has a largely 'antiseptic' palette, with lots of white and cream interiors punctuated by the occasional splash of colour, and this is exceptionally well-rendered on BD. Detail is sufficient that I was able to pick out not only the usual pores, blemishes and hairs in facial close-ups, but also the little decorative touches that help sell the environment as a realistic one. However, one unfortunate side-effect of Blu-ray's visual splendour is that it can make visual effects stand out like a sore thumb, and this is the case with Moon. The model shots are very obviously just that—models. This isn't a fault per se—rather a limit of the film's low-budget origins—but I thought it prudent to mention it all the same.
Luckily for a film where the dominant shades are white and black, contrast is just about perfect. Black levels are good during the interior scenes, but exterior shots are rendered in varying shades of grey. Again, this is not a problem with the transfer, because I clearly remember the blacks being a little washed out when I saw the film theatrically. I believe the effect is designed to represent light emanating from the Sun. The print is pristine, and the only digital nastiness that stood out was some minor posterisation during the opening titles. Other than that, Moon is a very solid looking feature.
This is one of the few Sony Blu-ray titles to feature a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, but from what I understand we'll be seeing it more regularly in future. Format aside, this is one of the best tracks I've heard in quite some time, and it is instrumental to the overall effectiveness of the film. The lunar base is alive with all manner of noises, most of which you probably won't even recognise on a conscious level, and that's the genius of the sound design. The motorised whirr of GERTY's various appendages and the simple beeping of computer consoles somewhere in the background are so natural that you quickly stop listening for them and just accept them as a part of the environment.
The exterior scenes are every bit as impressive, with massive harvesters spewing out tons of moon rock that hit the windscreen of Sam's rover like some sort of concrete rainstorm. There's also some decent bass during these scenes, lending weight to the mammoth vehicles as they grumble over the lunar surface, but again this is perfectly balanced in the mix so as not to overwhelm the proceedings. Discrete effects and panning are not as flashy as your average blockbuster, but the scene in which Sam plays basketball is handled well. Dialogue is generally clean and clear, but there were a couple of indistinct lines here and there. However, these tended to be during scenes where the characters themselves were in noisy situations (such as Sam getting a 'Floby' haircut), so it could be an intentional thing.
Perhaps the most important element of the mix is the music, with Clint Mansell's wonderfully moody score filling the soundstage from the opening moments. The themes that accompany Sam's daily activities reminded me of similar scenes from WALL-E (as the robots perform their duties aboard the Axiom), and this is no small compliment. There's also some great source music, such as Sam's Chesney Hawks alarm clock and 'Walking on Sunshine' by Katrina and the Waves, which accompanies Rockwell's gloriously goofy dance. I might catch a bit of flack for saying this, but I think Moon's audio is some of the best I've heard on Blu-ray this year. It just goes to show that films don't have to be filled with car chases and explosions to sound great.
The bonus material kicks off with a pair of commentary tracks, the first of which features writer/director Duncan Jones, director of photography Gary Shaw, concept designer Gavin Rothery, and production designer Tony Noble. The track is an absolute joy to listen to, with great interaction between the participants, plenty of banter, and some genuinely interesting observations and anecdotes (I'd never have spotted the boom operator in shot if they hadn't pointed it out). The second track with Duncan Jones and producer Stuart Fenegan isn’t quite as energetic, but it is still worth a listen. It concentrates more on the technical side of things and the smaller number of participants allows for a more thorough exploration of the topics under discussion.
Next up we have Whistle (28:46 SD), which is Duncan Jones' short film about a hitman who kills people from the comfort of his Swiss home while trying to rebuild his damaged relationship with his family. Unfortunately his latest assassination goes awry and before long he becomes a target himself. It's actually not a bad little film, with an interesting premise and some decent performances from the cast.
‘The Making of Moon’ (16:18 SD) is a short featurette that details the pictures origins and evolution. There is plenty of interview footage with the director, star Sam Rockwell and other members of the cast, all shot on-set at Shepperton Studios. I was actually a little bit disappointed by the short running time, but that’s only because I was enjoying the featurette (a rarity for me).
‘Creating the Visual Effects’ (11:09 SD) is another short piece that explores the creation of the digital and practical effects. We’re told how the various elements combined to produce the final results, and I was surprised by how much CGI went unnoticed during my viewing (which is a good thing). We also get to see Sam Rockwell fighting with himself, which amused me.
The ‘Science Center Q&A with Director Duncan Jones’ (20:48 SD) sees the director fielding questions about the film from the folks at the Science Center, Houston, while Sam Rockwell and producers Trudie Styler and Stuart Fenegan join Jones for the ‘Film Makers Q&A at the Sundance Festival’ (11:15 SD), which is basically more of the same with slightly different questions. Both featurettes are worth at least one viewing, even if they do overlap a fair bit.
The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (02:09 HD), a selection of trailers for other Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Blu-ray releases, and the customary BD-Live links to fairly useless content. There's also a short Easter egg, details of which can be found in our Easter eggs section.
Moon is one of those hidden gems that comes along once in a blue, well, moon. I went into it knowing nothing about the film other than some positive word of mouth and found it to be an enjoyable, atmospheric picture that evoked memories of yesteryear. It just goes to show that you don't need two hundred million dollars to make a good sci-fi movie. (Not that some directors can make a good sci-fi movie even with that amount, eh McG?). Technically the disc is very sound, with great visuals and demo-level audio. Throw in some genuinely entertaining extras and you've got yourself a winner. This one comes highly recommended.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 16th November 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Thai
Subtitles: English HoH, English, Chinese (Mandarin Traditional), Hindi, Indonesian/Bahasa, Thai
Extras: Audio Commentaries, 'Whistle' a Short Film by Duncan Jones, The Making of Moon, Creating the Visual Effects, Filmmaker's Q&A at the Sundance Film Festival, Science Center Q&A with Director Duncan Jones
Easter Egg: Yes
Director: Duncan Jones
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey
Length: 97 minutes
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