I feel the need to explain just how excited I was about this film. First of all, the trailer had me at hello. A clever, deliberately constrictive science fiction film that promises to be quite the psychological thriller. I didn’t catch Moon at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival, however some colleagues were lucky enough to do so and couldn’t rave any more about the film. Finally, there was the fact that this was directed by David Bowie’s son, and I’m a big fan of Ziggy Stardust/The Thin White Duke/The Goblin King (a pretty tenuous reason to be excited, but there you have it).

All this may explain why I was so disappointed.

Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) signed up for a three year long contract as sole caretaker of Luna’s only settlement – some high-tech project harvesting an energy source that has solved all of Earth’s energy worries. A solitary life form on this huge hunk of rock, he’s only had the computer Gerty (Kevin Spacey) to talk to the entire time.Moon Sure, he’s able to send and receive one-way messages to and from Earth, but basically it’s a lonely job. With only three weeks left in his contract he’s tantalisingly close to being reunited with his family, but it seems that his sanity is beginning to slip.

It’s a wonderful premise and though the film may be filled with all sorts of unanswered questions (why do they need a human up there at all, and if they do why do they only assign one person at a time?), this doesn’t have to be a problem. The error lies in the narrative architecture. Pretty early on crazy things start happening to Sam. This was surprising, since I had assumed the wackiness would naturally escalate, but isn’t necessarily a flaw in itself. The problem is that the film puts its cards out on the table too soon – in fact it seemed that we had the whole mystery sorted in the first half an hour – which leaves a rather uninspiring second and third act.

I wanted this film to intrigue me all the way through, to have the riddle explained piece by piece. Instead I had it all laid out for me in what felt like mere moments after the mystery was established. On a side note, there was a film I did see at MIFF09 which posited exactly the same theory that’s at the centre of Moon. I won’t mention it here, for fear that I ruin either film, but it was frustrating to say the least, especially when you consider that the nameless film was actually really boring, except for the core revelation it revealed. Of course, I can’t hold Moon accountable for this rather unfortunate timing, but it didn’t help.

Sam Rockwell is fine in the lead role – here’s a performer that I’m underwhelmed by almost as often as he is the recipient of adoring praise. Once again, I simply didn’t feel for his character here. Clearly, he is a skilled actor (and this film must have certainly been challenging) but I didn’t really find myself caring for the unlucky Sam.

Moon excels in many ways – it was made for about $5m yet looks fantastic and is wonderfully understated, contrasting with the way that many science fiction films fall over themselves in an attempt to impress. Clint Mansell’s score echoes his sublime work from The Fountain (methinks he was asked to simply repeat his past triumph), yet doesn’t come anywhere near the perfection that he achieved in Darren Aronofsky’s film.

I wish I had enjoyed Moon more, and maybe it’s the kind of film that gets better on the second viewing (such as The Village), when you’re not concerned about the unravelling of the mystery. I do hope everyone else likes it, that’s for sure, because we need more bold science fiction films that aren’t unnecessarily concerned with above the title stars and horribly slick CGI effects.

Rating: 3.0 stars
Review by Stuart Wilson, 13th October 2009
Hoopla Factor: 3.0 stars

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