Tuesday, May 26, 2009

SIFF Review: Moon

Moon (2009) is writer/director Duncan Jones' debut feature, and it is a promising start to what should be a long career. The film is a throwback to pre-CGI sci-fi gems of the 70's and 80's, such as Alien and other such offspring of the phenomenon that was 2001: A Space Odyssey. Though the practical models and sets may have been constructed more for financial reasons than anything else, the effect is nonetheless welcomed; the whole thing feels very authentic.
Set entirely upon the moon in some not-so-distant future, the story revolves around Sam Bell (Oscar-worthy Sam Rockwell), a blue-collar everyman who's 3-year contract on a lunar base that produces some kind of fusion energy is almost up. He is alone, aside from a robot named GERTY, so it not too surprising when he appears to be losing his mind after such a protracted stint away from humanity.
Though other human actors are featured on computer screens and in brief flashbacks, the film rest entirely upon Sam Rockwell. The term tour de force is trite and really doesn't do justice to his performance here. He is given the unenviable task of filling the vast emptiness of the moon with life, and he delivers. It would be rather narrow to simply label this film as 2001 with a pulse, but that notion definitely comes to mind. 
As mentioned before, the filmmakers steer away from the standard 21st-century practice of spraying CGI all over the screen, instead using traditional physical models and miniatures to represent everything from the exterior of the moon base to the lunar rover to the giant ore collectors. The effect is really much more believable than anything that can be done inside a computer, and it boggles the mind why we do not see this used more often. 
There is a twist that we do not see coming, and it is quite original. Sam suddenly encounters a double of himself, but he and the audience are forced to wonder: is he just going crazy, or is there something sinister at work here? The praise for Rockwell's performance is not complete without addressing this double situation. Most of the film plays out with two Sams, and its in the trailer, so talking about it will not spoil things. One actor playing two characters at once is nothing new, but here, it is taken to another level. It is impressive to see Sam Rockwell engage in fisticuffs with and even at one point play ping-pong against himself, but what makes the whole thing work so well is the acting. Rockwell manages to create two versions of the character, the first is 3 years moon-bound, the second a younger, more hot-blooded incarnation, but they are still, in essence, the same person.
The director, Duncan Jones, was at the screening I went to, and he took some questions from the audience. He alluded to the idea of making another film set in the same universe he has established with Moon, and we can see this happening. If Hollywood loves anything, it is a franchise, and, should this film be a success (and I think it will be), it will be no surprise when we see a sequel. 

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