Moon (US - BD)
Our Gabe struggles to review Duncan Jones' flick without giving anything away
Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is nearing the completion of his three-year-long contract with Lunar Industries, mining Earth's primary source of energy on the dark side of the moon. Alone with only the base's vigilant computer Gerty (Kevin Spacey) as his sole companion, Bell's extended isolation has taken its toll. His only link to the outside world comes from satellite messages from his wife and young daughter. He longs to return home, but a terrible accident on the lunar surface leads to a disturbing discovery that contributes to his growing sense of paranoia and dislocation so many miles away from home.
Short form review: Though I sincerely adore the film, I find the reviews referring to Moon as some kind of transformative experience dubious, as it’s a pretty straight forward, and relatively conventional story. Yes, there are plenty of complexities to be discussed on the way home from the theatre, but we’re not talking anything near as transcendental as floating space babies here. There’s mystery, intrigue, and not everything is wrapped in a perfect answer bow, but I’d hardly call the experience mind blowing. In the end this is a sort of character study/morality play, and most incredible for its restraint and Sam Rockwell’s performance. Given the film’s fantastic elements, and static look, Rockwell’s performance is vital to the film’s success, and I’d love to see him get an Oscar nomination out of the thing.
Unfortunately this ends the part of the review that those who haven’t seen the film should read. Moon, like District 9, really should be seen with as blank a slate in mind as possible. Most films can be reviewed from a first and second act point of view, but both Moon and District 9 feature second act events that go on to define the whole of the film, especially thematically. If you haven’t seen the film please skip the next few paragraphs.
The second act really defines the majority of the plot and themes, and it begins with the realization that Sam is a clone. Popular film has dealt with cloning on several occasions, but usually on a rather grand scale. Moon is the only film I can recall that deals with the morals, ethics and even science of human cloning on such a personal level. The film doesn’t cover the philosophical or abstract like 2001 or Solaris, but that’s far from a problem here. The first time I saw the film I wasn’t quite sold on the different personalities of the two Sams, and spent too much time trying to figure out Sam two’s motivations to realize the difference three years alone on a moon base would make in a person. Besides the fact that this gives the film a real second viewing value, this gives the film its heart. The film is a great companion piece to District 9 because it uses these traditional science fiction themes to deal with entirely un-sci-fi themes (though entirely different once). This is what the best science fiction can do—it can explore realistic and grounded emotional, or socio-political elements through a high concept theme.
Once we’re able to move beyond the initial shock of Sam being cloned, where able to enjoy the fact that Sam is given the chance to effectively psychoanalyze, and eventually befriend himself. The third act continues the clone themes, and introduces the horror of deterioration, which really delves into the moral question of cloning sentient human beings while exploiting our fears of sickness and death. Perhaps my favourite element of the entire film is the bases robot Gerty, who is unlike any artificially intelligence I’ve seen in a ‘realist’ sci-fi film. The filmmakers really use the audience’s expectations against them, specifically those pertaining to HAL 9000 in 2001. Because we expect faceless, monotone speaking robots to be evil in terms of sticking strictly to their programming, Gerty’s eventual assistance is refreshingly sweet. The character’s emotional transference is a little sappy, but thanks to the film’s overall realism and patience it’s hard not to be genuinely touched when the robot sheds a smilie-face avatar tear.
Moon is shot with a sparse and calm look, with an eye for the mundane. The sets are stark white, with occasional blue or grey tints, and often things are shot to be purposefully blown-out, or occasionally even out of focus, which makes the occasional dirty spots (Gerty’s hub, Sam’s bed) and more complex effects screen stand out. I actually saw the film at a pretty awful theatre the first time around, so I really appreciated the Blu-ray’s appearance, minor blemishes included. Details aren’t the sharpest you’re going to see on the format, but are quite consistent overall. On the big screen I missed exactly what it is that distracted Sam when he crashes his lunar rover, and had no idea what he discovered beneath the cryo-sleep bed. Some viewers will also likely be a little disappointed with the presence of grain, but this is clearly part of the design, as the digital additions are integrated with grain of their own. In high definition the digital shots look a little less impressive (the CG Gerty’s are a little more obvious), and models look a little more like models, but not enough to really be a problem.
The sparse look is of Moon is augmented with a sparse aural landscape, mostly made up of dialogue, ambient sound effects, and eerie musical elements. Modern science fiction usually dictates Star Wars like multi-channel, effects filled extravaganzas, so viewers expecting a more aggressive experience will probably find themselves a little saddened. According to the films style this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is pretty much perfect. Rockwell’s performance is the prominent audio element the majority of the time, but the hum of the moon base subtly makes its way into the rear channels on a regular basis, along with added a little rumble to the LFE. Then there’s Clint Mansell’s score. I personally find Mansell the most interesting and consistent composer working in Hollywood, and following the recent disappointment of his very average Blood: The Last Vampire score, Moon see’s him returning to the kinds of themes he usually produces for Darren Aronosky’s films. Mansell’s themes usually utilize repeating melodies that are built upon as they progress, much like a techno remix. These themes give the film its most potent aural elements, and besides a few of the moon surface effects, which are still sparse (there’s no sound in a vacuum, after all), but plenty bassy, are really the only way to show off this DTS-HD track.
The disc’s extras begin with two commentary tracks. The first track features writer/director Duncan Jones, DP Gary Shaw, concept designer Gavin Rothery, and production designer Tony Noble. It’s a full room, and things bounce around a bit, but the tone is personable and there’s plenty to learn. The main focus is on the technical aspects, with each commentator coming at things from their specific job’s point of view. This track devolves into silliness and giggles relatively often as well, which is fun, but a little less interesting. The second track features Jones and producer Stuart Fenegan, and is a bit sparser. Unfortunately things are still pretty technically minded, though there’s a little more focus on themes. I also learned quite a bit about the actually science of the film, and caught some of the good natured lobs at Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. Despite the blank spots I’d actually recommend the second track over the first one for those planning on watching one version of the film. Jones actually does a pretty good Harrison Ford impression.
Next up is a short film by Duncan Jones entitled Whistle (29:00, SD). Whistle is tonally similar to Moon, and covers the same kind of real life science fiction themes, along with the marital troubles angle, but is really a much different film in most respects. Unfortunately, even as a short subject, it sort of overstays its welcome, features a goofy musical interlude, and the low budget makes for some minor issues with dialogue quality. Worth it for the performances and to see Jones working out his directorial powers. ‘The Making of Moon’ (16:20, SD) is a nice chunk of raw behind the scenes footage and cast and crew interviews. It’s sort of a budget EPK, though it does go into the spoilers of the second act. Surprisingly it doesn’t cover all that much that was already covered during the commentaries, especially Rockwell’s process. ‘Creating the Visual Effects’ (11:10, SD) is a rather dry look at some of the film’s more complex effects work. Various shots are presented in their various compositions for comparison, while the VFX supervisor explains things to us. ‘Science Center Q and A with Duncan Jones’ (20:50, HD) sees Jones speaking to people in Huston following a special screening of the film. Surprisingly enough the questions have very little to do with Science, and more to do with the plot. ‘Film Makers Q&A at the Sundance Festival’ (11:15 SD) follows, and sees Jones joined by Rockwell and producers Trudie Styler and Stuart Fenegan. Rockwell really makes the difference. Things end with a trailer, and other Sony trailers.
Once again, there’s a lot to talk about concerning this multi-layered, adult science fiction film, but these things should all remain secrets until we see the film. I’m still confused by some of the reviews praising the film’s transformative powers, but am happy to say I cannot recall any recent science fiction films that have moved me so genuinely on a human level. At the very least the film begs to be seen for Sam Rockwell’s lead performance. This disc is perfectly adequate based on the film’s aims and goals, though videophiles probably won’t find much to wring their hands at among the overblown whites, and simplified details. The extras are a slight disappointment in frequency, but there aren’t too many stones left unturned.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 12th January 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, French and Portuguese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
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: No
Director: Duncan Jones
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey
Genre: Drama and Sci-Fi
Length: 97 minutes
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