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Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009)


     Moon, directed by first-timer Duncan Jones, diligently repackages plenty of sci-fi tropes, but loses what makes the genre special in the process. This unambitious film has been compared to Kubrick’s 2001, presumably due to its inclusion of a HAL 9000-like robot, its small cast, and its spare visual design. Thematically, however, it holds more common ground with Tarkovsky’s Solaris. Like that movie, it casts its protagonist into outer space so he can find the headspace to explore personal loss and questions of identity. To be less generous, but maybe just as accurate, though, one would invoke a middling episode of television’s The Twilight Zone. Moon similarly coasts by with production values that require an investment of audience imagination and a strong sense of narrative inevitability.


     Set in 2026, aboard a lunar mining colony manned by one man and a robot, Moon culls from many sources. Beyond 2001: A Space Odyssey, there are nods to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Outland, Asimov’s short story I, Robot, and other sci-fi staples. These references not only fail to create a significant dialogue between key entries in the genre, they have the negative effect of familiarizing the otherness of outer space. Here is yet another space movie that promises discovery but focuses on relationships at its expense (see also Zemeckis’ Contact or J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek).


     Worse still, even on its own very minor scale, Moon doesn’t execute well. Jones seems convinced that he’s creating a mysterious atmosphere here, but the mounting anxiety that Rockwell mimes as he comes face to face with a clone doesn’t make the film’s spaces seem any more alien or creepy. Everything in the plot is so plainly telegraphed (thanks to the shadowy board room, the ever-present corporate signifiers, editorial choices that suggest an unreliable protagonist, etc…) that one must wonder who would be taken in by a trick so obvious. Jones is a methodical filmmaker, and he conveys his plot without mucking it up too terribly, but he’s also dull.


     Spectacle has saved plenty of mediocre sci-fi, but Moon looks cheaply made. When characters complain about the budgetary concerns that have been passed down from corporate, the gripe resonates in ways that it shouldn’t . Still, there is a consistency in the set design that helps the inadequate art direction to fade into the background as Moon grows increasingly character-driven. Star Sam Rockwell strives to save the movie singlehandedly, kicking his heels up when he walks, falling over himself at every opportunity, flipping his baseball cap backward, and hamming it up to make the characters he displays distinct. He manages that, barely, but fails in the greater task of making his Sam Bells someone to care about.


     With no strong sense of paranoia, major missed comic opportunities, and, most distressingly, no stirrings of awe, Moon is a letdown to its genre. Because Jones roots this outer space story in the familiar, merely tweaking ground that has been laid before, it takes on a predigested quality. Originality isn’t everything, of course, but if the example Moon is anything to go by, it seems to matter more in science-fiction movies than most.



Jeremy Heilman