Duncan Jones’ intimate sci-fi mindbender, Moon, is a wonderfully strange little movie that borrows liberally from a few classics of the genre (2001, Silent Running, Star Trek etc), yet, somehow, remixes these elements into something new and startlingly original. It’s a quaint, haunting, and moving piece of vintage sci-fi that’s more Asimov and Ellison than George Lucas.
For nearly three years, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) has overseen the Sarang Helium 3 mining operation on the surface of the moon with nothing but the compound’s resident computer, Gerty, (voiced in H.A.L.-like fashion by Kevin Spacey) to keep him company. Now, as his contract with Lunar Industries nears its end, Sam is looking forward to returning to Earth to be with his wife and child. His trip home can’t come soon enough, as the years of isolation have begun to take both a mental and physical toll on him, resulting in debilitating headaches and vivid hallucinations. When one such hallucination leads to a near-fatal accident on the moon’s surface, Sam awakens to find himself in the Sarang’s sick bay as Gerty tends to his wounds. He has no memory of the accident, and, as he begins to wander about the base, develops a suspicion that all is not as it seems. He notices that one of the mining vehicles has gone offline and wants to go out to check on it, but Gerty informs him that he is under strict orders to remain at the base until a “support crew” arrives. Later, when Sam overhears Gerty talking to his superiors (something Sam has not been able to do since his arrival, as the base had supposedly long ago lost the capability of sending and receiving live transmissions), he finds a way out of the base and ventures off in a rover toward the stalled mining vehicle, where he discovers another rover crushed beneath the mining vehicle’s tracks. When Sam investigates the wreckage he finds that not only is the driver of the wrecked rover still alive – that driver is him.
Knowing what I knew about Moon before viewing it, I feared it was going to be one of those "twist" movies, where everything built up to and hinged on a single shocking revelation (especially seeing as how I was confident that said twist had already been given away in the trailers). Happily this wasn’t the case. Yes, there are two Sams, but we learn this early on, and this allows Writer/Director Jones (son of David Bowie) to spend the rest of the film focusing on the human repercussions of the revelations. We get to see the surly and impetuous younger Sam (younger by three years, actually) interact with mellowed and lonely Sam, as the former eggs on the latter to help him find out just what in the hell is going on. This sets the stage for Sam Rockwell’s mesmerizing performance as he plays off himself with sometimes hilarious and oftentimes heart-breaking results. Even if sci-fi isn't your thing, Moon is worth seeing for Sam Rockwell's bravura performance alone, as he continues to prove why he's one of the best (and most underrated) actors working today. I've been a fan of his since "Galaxy Quest", but much of his work since his exceptional turn in "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" has gone under the radar (ie; the underappreciated "Choke"). He's absolutely brilliant here, turning in a performance that, much like the film itself, is easily one of the best of 2009.
Sony brings Moon to Blu-ray in a gorgeous 2.40:1 transfer that brings Sam’s world to vivid life. The Sarang base is awash in fluorescent lights and sterile white walls, with a few odds and ends lending a human touch to the surroundings. There are pictures taped to walls, a small model town, some books and posters, all of which pop off of the white background with exceptional depth and clarity. The level of detail is quite impressive mainly because there is so little of it, so little things like the coffee stains on Gerty’s tray, Sam’s tattered space suit, and marker scrawlings on antiquated (for a sci-fi film, anyway) looking control panels jump right out. The contrast levels are spot on despite the overwhelming amount of bright white, with well defined lines and deep, inky blacks.
The 5.1 DTS HD audio track is also quite impressive, offering robust bass, crisp and organic sounding dialogue, and a nice assortment of surround effects that work the entire soundfield. The film’s beautiful score (by Clint Mansell) is lush and well articulated. It’s a fairly subdued mix at times, but, when the action calls for it, it can become quite aggressive.
Bonus features include a feature-length commentary by Duncan Jones, DP Gary Shaw, and production designers Gavin Rothery and Tony Noble, as well as a second track featuring Jones and producer, Gary Shaw. I especially enjoyed the second track as I found that Shaw and Jones offered a much more focused and informative look at the film.
Featurettes include The Making of Moon and Creating the Visual Effects, both of which are presented in standard definition and offer a brief glimpses at the work that went into making the picture. Much of what’s presented here is covered in the commentary tracks, but their inclusion is appreciated nonetheless.
Also included is a short film by Jones entitled Whistle, which is a quirky, humorous tale about an assassin who kills his targets with a long range laser weapon from his remote home in the mountains. When an assignment goes awry, the assassin must contend with the potential fallout. It’s a fun short, and it’s interesting to see how Jones’ style has evolved.
Two HD features include Science Center Q&A with Director Duncan Jones; a twenty minute question and answer session following a screening of the film at NASA’s space center in Houston, while Filmmakers Q&A at Sundance Film Festival is just that, with Sam Rockwell and producer, Trudy Styler (wife of Sting), in attendance.
Rounding out the extras are an assortment of HD trailers for other Sony releases.
Moon is a fantastic throwback to the thinking-man’s sci-fi of the early seventies, with an uncharacteristically human story, and a bravura performance from Sam Rockwell. It’s one of the best films of 2009, and one of the best sci-fi flicks of the last decade. Sony’s Blu-ray offers great picture and audio quality, as well as a host of compelling extras, earning this release my highest recommendation.