Few movies get science fiction the way a true fan of the genre does. Ask any sci-fi buff what makes a good genre film and if they're up to snuff, they'll respond with one simple word: characters. The non-stop action and violence so many films relegate themselves to today makes up only a fraction of what goes into a science fiction movie. Alien wasn't about the grotesque beast lurking in the shadows. It was about Ripley and her crew. Star Wars wasn't about the force. It was about Luke Skywalker's journey. Even the recent Star Trek reboot focused on the relationship between Kirk and Spock. The one thing that all of these movies have in common are that they are driven by their characters, not action. The next in line to get the genre right is Moon, a character study that downplays the action and allows the natural mystery and intrigue of the genre to propel the film forward.
At the start of Moon, we learn that Earth's energy crisis has reached an unforeseen level. To solve this problem, Lunar, a mining company, has contracted Sam (Sam Rockwell) for a three year stay on the moon, employing him to mine it of Helium-3 and send it back to Earth, thus providing the necessary power. He has only two weeks left on his contract and is ready to get back home and see his wife and baby girl. After wrecking his vehicle and knocking himself unconscious while on his way to check one of the harvesters, he awakens back at the main base accompanied by his robot companion, Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey), who tells him of the situation. But when he ventures back to the crash site, he finds himself still in the vehicle. Is he seeing things? Is this other self a delusion, or is there something more to it?
Moon is the story of one man's despair, struggling with an inescapable situation, looking forward to going home, but making discoveries that impede that goal. This is a film that knows its strengths lie in its characters, or in this case, character and it gives Rockwell full control of the story and allows his talent to shine through. He is an actor of great stature and he twists each moment into his own. Once he finds himself in the crash, he is essentially playing two identical characters, but he gives each their own distinct traits instead of playing it on one note throughout. His performance becomes even more impressive once the twist is revealed.
The largest gaff with that, however, is that the twist is revealed far too early, leaving only the matter of reaching the end. Intrigue is one of the film's largest assets and once that intrigue is gone, part of its appeal begins to fade away. While it still provides an interesting character study, this sci-fi parable can't help but begin to drag well before its ending due to this premature reveal.
The film also leaves a few questions up in the air. Early in the movie, before his fateful crash, Sam sees apparitions, one a female ghost sitting in his chair. Once you find out the answer to the mystery, it becomes hard to figure out what purpose these sightings served. All it did was further convolute an already somewhat complicated tale.
Still, Moon is an engaging movie throughout. There's a beautiful silence when Sam is out on the moon doing his duties, calm and peaceful, yet hauntingly eerie. The natural wonder of space and its mysteries are a perfect backdrop for any sci-fi tale and Moon uses that to its fullest extent, regardless of some minor headaches along the way.
The first half of the film had the makings of a masterpiece, a film destined to be on many top ten lists once the holidays rolled around, but the latter half, while still good, shatters that dream. Don't let that deter you from seeing it though. Moon is one of the better sci-fi movies to be released in recent memory and it deserves a look.
Moon receives 4/5