On DVD: Moon

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No matter the premise, a film puts itself at a disadvantage when it calls for a one man show. Sam Rockwell, as talented as he is, cannot generate enough interesting conflict with nothing at his disposal but the skin-tingling monotone voice of Kevin Spacey. In other words, films like “Moon” have to work twice as hard to keep our attention and more importantly, capture our imagination. Creator Duncan Jones’ first feature-length film makes an ambitious attempt to pull off this challenge, but it doesn’t fully get there.

The echoing theme in outer space movies is the silence, loneliness and its consequent madness. With only Sam Rockwell as astronaut Sam Bell, the expectation is “Moon” will repeat those themes and the hope is it will shed new light on them. There are a few snippets where it does get us to begin contemplating existence in a new way, but it doesn’t meditate on these ideas enough, doesn’t let them cook.

Sam Bell is a space worker on the dark side of the moon in the near future when Earth is harvesting moon rocks for Helium 3, a new fuel/energy alternative. Bell is contracted for three years to oversee four rock-harvesting machines. At the time of the story, he’s nearly completed his three years and eagerly awaits going home to his wife and daughter when an accident happens leading to a startling discovery.

I’ve always been a fan of Sam Rockwell. He’s done a great job balancing comedy and drama in numerous films such as “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” and most recently “Frost/Nixon.” He brings the same talents to a quiet “Moon.” However, “Moon” doesn’t give him a lot of opportunity to stretch his dramatic talents despite being the only role in the film; his character is thinly developed, his motivations never clearly spelled out.

“Moon” has an opportunity to paint a beautiful but tortured picture of life in outer space, but little of Jones’ visual imagery really sticks in our minds. A film with so few roles should really be advanced in the way of visual storytelling, should pry deep into the soul of its main character through image, but that’s a lot to ask from a novice filmmaker. Instead, he’s busy fighting the audience’s assumption that the Spacey-voiced computer assistant, GERTY, will inevitably turn evil. You can’t spend all your efforts trying not to be too much like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and not identify another force of antagonism. Jones also struggles a lot in the beginning editing scenes together, trying to keep the film’s pace up until the discovery.

There is quite an inspiring idea behind “Moon,” once the true nature of Bell’s situation is revealed, but it never hits us the way Jones wants it to. There’s simply not enough conflict despite Rockwell’s best efforts to keep our attention and the space visuals are not as awe- striking as they need to be to counter that disadvantage as well. “Moon” is a unique movie, but it’s a very long and lonely hour and a half.

2.5/5 Stars

Moon
Directed by: Duncan Jones
Written by: Duncan Jones, Nathan Parker
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey (voice)

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