Sam Rockwell plays, ostensibly, the only character in Moon, the debut film from Duncan Jones. His role is that of Sam Bell, a meager laborer at an energy-mining colony on the moon who, lonesome and remote, engineers the extraction of Helium-3, the world's new-fangled energy resource. His only friend: a computer named Gerty which is fitted with emoticons and is voiced by Kevin Spacey. My very real hope is that when all this space craziness becomes real, we make robots and droids a bit livelier than all these HAL scions.
Sam has a wife and a new kid back on Earth and a pair of condescending, endlessly reassuring bosses who send him bits of info every once in awhile. When he runs full-barrel into a harvesting machine and knocks himself unconscious, he awakens with a clear memory of everything up until the accident. Gerty, who has all the dings, scuff marks, and stains one would expect of a workplace droid, shepherds Sam back to working condition like a doting mother but refuses to let him leave the compound. It takes a few days for Sam to outsmart Gerty and get out to the harvester, where he finds an astronaut barely breathing. The helmet is lifted and he finds a clone of himself, bearded and bloodied. Article continues below
Screenwriter Nathan Parker has fashioned a nifty, timely little nugget of space buffoonery out of the aforementioned proceedings and, despite minor gaps of illogical lunacy, it works. Duncan Jones, the real-world son of Ziggy Stardust himself (that's David Bowie, kids), has fitted this lunar psychodrama with some purposefully low-tech set pieces and visual flares. But where his assurance in visuals lends Moon a certain hypnotic isolationism, his grasp of tone and mood seem skittish, especially in the final quarter. A rote dovetail turns a promising cerebral journey into a slapdash run at humanism.
Nonetheless, Moon is a fascinating and ambitious, if not wholly successful, exercise in low-budget gadgetry. Unencumbered by ILM bombast, Jones' imagery benefits immeasurably from the simplicity of the lunarscape design, sculpted nicely by cinematographer Gary Shaw and production designer Tony Noble. But the ace in the hole, as he so often is, is Rockwell, doing some of his best work to date here. CGI may carve out the physical fight that erupts between the two Sams, but the psychological and physical deterioration of the clones is rendered troubling and believable by the Confessions of a Dangerous Mind thesp.
Science fiction is a tough needle to thread. This is perhaps because of an inevitable clash with the forces of logic. Science can be proven; fiction cannot and will not. More often than not, at least in film, the hammer will come down on the side of the latter: Even something as outrageously enjoyable as Star Trek owes much more to its fiction than it does to its science. Similarly, Moon feels more intrigued with corporate soullessness and Sam's seismic home-life than it does with its loftier questions of identity, mood, and energy supplies. It stunts Moon's aspirations towards the cerebral, classic sci-fi of the '60s and '70s that it emulates so blatantly (Solaris, Logan's Run, and 2001 make up small parts of its DNA). By film's end, it feels like you've been talking to the same robot as always.