1 August 2009

MOON (Dir. Duncan Jones, UK, 2009) - Existential Adventures In OuterSpace

Sam Rockwell as astronaut 'Sam Bell' who works for Lunar Industries.

‘Moon’ was a film I had been eager to watch and it finally and unexpectedly emerged at the local multiplex. These days it’s rare to come across a well made and thought out science fiction film – one that makes you think about all those important science fiction related questions like existence, identity, humanity, loneliness and the place of technology in our lives. ‘Moon’ is the directorial debut of Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s son who has changed his name to avoid the usual criticisms to do with celebrity nepotism) and stars Sam Rockwell in the role of an isolated astronaut, Sam Bell, who is harvesting energy from the Moon so that people on earth can continue their existence in earnest. I was really taken by the trailer for the film which had me convinced that Darren Aronofksy’s regular composer, Clint Mansell, had undoubtedly produced some of his most esoteric and genuinely moving work, and let me tell you, I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest when confronted with images of a used retro future juxtaposed to that of Mansell’s magical score. Some of the great examples of the science fiction genre have featured exceptionally memorable original scores – Vangelis perhaps most influentially for Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’.

The film was shot at Shepperton Studios, England.

Produced by Trudie Styler (yes, Sting’s wife) on a budget of $5 million (relatively inexpensive for a science fiction film which features Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey) and shot entirely at Shepperton Studios in the UK, ‘Moon’ is a confident debut, and a brilliantly effective genre film. Released to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the first landing on the moon, the film is very much an unpretentious pastiche and endearing celebration of the science fiction films that left an impression on Duncan Jones as a fan of the genre. Shot on a tight schedule of 33 days, ‘Moon’ also features a rewarding set of animated performances from indie turned mainstream Hollywood supporting actor, Sam Rockwell. What is referenced most explicitly comprises of four very influential science fiction films:

ALIEN - 1979

Though the idea of ‘retro fitting’ was pioneered by Blade Runner, Scott’s first science fiction film in 1979 also presented a vision of the future which was used, dysfunctional and devoid of real colour – anaemic is the word. Like ‘Alien’, Moon was also shot at Shepperton and Duncan Jones used the model maker from Scott’s film to supervise the construction of the lunar vehicles and harvesters on the film. Like the pathological corporation of Weyland-Yutani in the Alien films, ‘Moon’ also continues this theme of the individual in conflict with the company. ‘Moon’ opens with a shiny corporate advertisement by the fictional mega corporation of Lunar Industries which cleverly provides context for the future world which we are about to enter. Similarly, ‘Moon’ like ‘Alien’ also features an apathetic corporate view of humanity – individuals like Sam Bell are expendable and treated as a mechanical slave.


This 70s Eco friendly science fiction parable about a man and his lovable robots is perhaps most evident in the loneliness of Sam Bell, whose only form of emotional contact is through video messaging from earth and the company of a robot named GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey).

Sam Bell (Rockwell) contemplates his remaining days on the surface of the moon.

SOLARIS - 1972

Tarkovsky’s ambitious ‘Solaris’ is a real conundrum that opts for a cerebral rather than visual approach to the genre. Having already been remade by Soderbergh with Clooney, the intellectualism of memories, doppelgangers and metaphysics is present throughout ‘Moon’ – the duality of Sam Bell raises the all important science fiction question; what does it mean to be human? It is the intelligence which most impresses film makers when referencing a science fiction film like ‘Solaris’.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY - 1968

Unlike the homicidal and paranoid nature of HAL 9000, the computer/robot GERTY in ‘Moon’ is unconventionally empathetic and responsive to the needs of humans. Voiced by Kevin Spacey, GERTY is a benign and affectionate companion for Sam Bell – Duncan Jones representation of technology at times is far removed from the technophobia of many 70s dystopian films like ‘Mad Max’, ‘Rollerball’ and ‘THX-1138’. The opening shot of the moon eclipsing that of Earth is a visual homage to Kubrick’s film.

This is ultimately a film about mortality and death, told with a distinctively assured grasp of science fiction conventions and a pertinent understanding of human emotions. Duncan Jones has announced that ‘Moon’ is the first of three related science fiction films. I hope the other two (if made) retain the first film’s sense of compassion and existential exploration.

Here is the impressively edited trailer for the film including Clint Mansell’s compelling score:


  1. Ooh. This one sounded so impressive, especially because 2001 is one of my all time favorite movies. But Sam Rockwell? I'm skeptic.

  2. Don't be, Sam Rockwell has incredible range as an actor - he has recently notched up a series of credible performances in films like Frost/Nixon, Assassination of Jesse James and Choke.