By Marty Mulrooney
If there is one film you go out and buy this year, make it Moon. I can not stress that point enough. This review will contain minor spoilers, but nothing the trailer didn’t show us before the cinema release.
Still, I suggest you watch the film as soon as humanly possible. If that means skipping my review… so be it! Go now! Anyone still reading? Okay good, because I am about to review one of the best films I have seen in the last ten years.
As soon as I heard about Moon, I had a good feeling about it. I am hugely in love with classic sci-fi films such as Aliens and Blade Runner, and I often preach to people about how their effects blow modern CGI effects out of the water. (I am not sure if they actually listen anymore though!)
Well now, I have the proof that my fanboyish ramblings were true. Moon had a quite limited release here in the UK, and I had to drive a fair distance to see it from where I lived. I didn’t know what to expect beyond hearing good things about Sam Rockwell, and knowing it was science fiction with traditional miniature effects. (The miniature effects artist off Aliens worked on Moon as well!)
This was several months ago, around the time of the anniversary of the moon landing, so it felt like something I should go see. I dragged my girlfriend along for the ride, and I knew as we drove there in the car that this could be a triumph or a total disaster (the film and my day!) I tried not to take the heavy rain as a bad omen.
Well… thank god it turned out so well. The biggest testament I can give to this film is that my girlfriend loved it nearly as much as I did. And if you knew my girlfriend, you would also know this film must be something bloody special!
We sat in the cinema in total awe. This film is like actually going to the moon. Forget fancy 3D films. Forget even the action-orgy of the also brilliant District 19 that was released soon after. This film is literally out of this world.
The effects totally rock the screen. For a film that is relatively low budget, it looks a billion dollars (it cost only $5 mil to make, tiny compared to similar films.) The use of practical effects, only enhanced with CG effects rather than relying on them, is astonishing.
But make no mistake, this is no mere spectacle with little depth. Moon is a character study, and yet both main characters are one and the same. Sound confusing? It sort of is, but in a totally cool, everything is explained and actually makes sense at the end sort of way.
Sam Rockwell gives the performance of his career as Sam Bell, a lonely lunar worker who finds a nearly dead, slightly older version of himself whilst mining the moon for Helium-3 during a three-year stint. (In the future shown, this is were we will get our energy. This part of the film is science-fact: NASA are looking into this idea as we speak.)
I interviewed director Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie) for Alternative Magazine Online not long after the film was released. He praised Rockwell wholeheartedly, explaining how, whilst he may not be some A-list seat-seller, he is by far a much greater talent acting-wise than most. After seeing this film several times, I find it hard to disagree.
Rockwell is so good, that when he plays two different versions of himself, I struggled sometimes to see the same man on screen. Yes, there are visual anchors in place so that you can tell Sam 1 and Sam 2 apart, but what separates them amounts to so much more than that. Rockwell has infused the details of the script into the very essence of his performance. He is hypnotic.
Young, new Sam is angry, temperamental and cocky. Older, what-the-hell-is-going-on-here Sam is tired, depressed and can’t bear to face the truth. When they interact together, it’s magic. If this were two separate actors, I would say they bounce off each other to perfection. Knowing it is all Sam Rockwell makes it even more incredible to watch and soak in.
The lovely thing about the effects on display throughout the film, showing Sam interact with himself, is that they never intrude upon the viewing experience. Not once did I look at a shot with the two Sam’s and think ‘ah, that’s a special effect.’ It is seamless, and you soon forget that an effect is even taking place. The result is nothing short of magic.
Kevin Spacey’s dulcet tones as resident robot Gerty are another highlight. The film has fun playing upon the similarities to HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, before defying viewer expectations and delivering something completely different, original and unique.
Original and unique. Two words I can safely associate with Moon. The aforementioned 2001: A Space Odyssey always annoyed me with its lack of real plot or emotional involvement (although I totally understand why it was done that way.) The other extreme is District 9, a film I really enjoyed but wished hadn’t gone the action route towards the end.
Moon is that most perfect of balancing acts; visual splendour, wrapped in an engaging, non-manipulative narrative, featuring Oscar-worthy performances. From one man playing two men, and another voicing a robot. It could have failed, but it doesn’t at all. More than once my heart broke a little, and near the end there is a moment where, with just a hand movement to stop a closing shutter, Sam Rockwell and Duncan Jones made me nearly stand up and scream at the cinema screen, my heart racing and my eyes filling up. Genius.
Of course, I haven’t really explained the real meat of the film, but that is just as well. This is an experience. An experience I have no intention of destroying for the hopefully millions of people who are going to finally watch this on DVD and Blu-ray. I can reveal one final detail however: the soundtrack is stunning. Two licensed tracks made me laugh really hard due to their blistering irony and Clint Mansell’s haunting score (evoking Solaris and 2001, whilst also creating a unique vibe completely its own) is perfectly married to Duncan Jones’ powerful visuals. This is classic sci-fi in every sense of the word.
So is this film a rip-off, or a constantly winking nod to the past? Not at all. This is cinema at its most potent and impactful. I always bemoan and lament how I will never have any music or films to recommend as classics to my children, the way my father has done to me. Well now, I have my first modern-day classic. I didn’t review the film upon release because I wanted to see if it would hold up to repeat viewings at home, already knowing what is going to unfold. It does. Children, take my recommendation and see this NOW. Then tell your kids in 20 years time to do the same. You won’t regret it, I promise.
10 OUT OF 10
Blu-ray Special Features (UK Edition, Region-Free)
- Commentary with Writer/Director Duncan Jones, Director of Photography Gary Shaw, Concept Designer Gavin Rothery and Production Designer Tony Noble
- “Whistle” a Short Film by Duncan Jones
- Commentary with Writer/Director Duncan Jones and Producer Stuart Fenegan
- 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
Let me start by saying the picture quality of this film on Blu-ray is outstanding. I could find nothing to fault with this excellent 1080p transfer, which is a huge step up from the also excellent DVD. If anything the clarity of the image sometimes reveals some tiny little computer touch-ups here and there that I didn’t notice in the cinema. Regardless, this is reference material.
Likewise, the audio is fantastic, with English DTS-HD Master Audio to accompany the visuals. Again, only one small complaint here, but it isn’t the film’s fault. This is quite a quiet film, so it doesn’t exactly work out your speaker system like a big blockbuster would do. Regardless, Clint Mansell’s score sounds beautiful in such a high quality (it is the first soundtrack I have bought in years, it is that good) and the voices are clear and crisp throughout.
The special features provided here are great, although I must admit I felt slightly underwhelmed at first. This is because they are all in standard definition, so you don’t get the same wow-factor you get from the main feature.
After this initial disappointment, you soon realise just how much cool stuff is on here. Whistle, a short 30 minute film Duncan Jones did long before Moon, is almost worth the price of the disk all by itself. Similar thematically to Moon yet at the same time totally different, it sucked me in and made me realise just how good Duncan really is. I cannot wait to see what he does next.
I knew from my interview with Mr Jones that he was a well-spoken, interesting director. The two commentaries on this disk cement this in stone. He is always revealing some new interesting titbits throughout, and his passion is infectious.
Moon was my film of the year, and now it is my Blu-ray of the year. The special features loose a point due to being in standard definition, but don’t let that put you off. This is cinema at its finest.
Blu-ray score: 9 OUT OF 10
Be sure to check out Alternative Magazine Online’s interview with the director of Moon, Duncan Jones, here!