With the year coming to a close, we look back at the past twelve months and reflect on those films which have stood out. For the science-fiction genre, 2009 has been an interesting year, with several flops and a few noteworthy titles. While Michael Bay's 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' uses alien technology to utterly destroy a coherent plot and structured story, James Cameron's 'Avatar' successfully unites film narrative with advancements in technology. We also discovered that Roland Emmerich is fully capable of good entertainment whilst annihilating our planet. And while 'Terminator Salvation' failed to start a revolution against the machines, at least Abrams' 'Star Trek' overwhelmingly reignited interest in a dying franchise.
Most interesting is that (arguably) the best sci-fi movies of the year came from two directors making their feature-length debuts, and both were better in line with the conventions of the genre than those mentioned above. Neill Blomkamp's 'District 9' is a brilliant film on social segregation inspired by the events of District Six and the apartheid era. The psychological thriller 'Moon' not only features a thought-provoking and meditative premise, but it also comes with an accomplished performance from Sam Rockwell. With an incredibly simple backdrop and a minimalist set design, director Duncan Jones rouses suspicion about what it means to be human and how memories function to shape our sense of humanity. According to Jones, this is the first of a trilogy.
The film opens with deceptive simplicity by displaying an advertisement for a company called Lunar Industries, and it nicely provides the audience with the necessary exposition. At some undisclosed time in the future, Sam Bell (Rockwell) lives in a fully automated lunar base and is kept company by a robotic assistant named Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey). He is nearing the completion of a three-year contract to extract helium-3 from the lunar soil, which provides Earth with non-polluting energy. He also appears to be on the brink of losing all sanity, with only days until he goes home to his wife Tess (Dominique McElligott) and his infant daughter. His only form of communication is via delayed video feeds, which do nothing to alleviate the immense loneliness he feels.
Things only grow worse when out on a routine check, Sam crashes the lunar rover into one of the harvester machines. Moments later, he inexplicably awakens in the infirmary. Curiosity compels him to investigate, and he finds the body of another astronaut that looks identical to him. For fear of ruining the rest of the film, the summary will end there, except to mention that determining Sam Bell's sanity is only part of larger issue at stake. The conversations between the two men lead to a disturbing discovery, exasperating his mounting sense of paranoia. Their interactions also allow for Jones to explore some deeper concerns about the cost of technological advancements, the definition of being human, and confronting our mortality. It is exactly the sort of hardnosed science fiction that forefathers John W. Campbell, Phillip K. Dick, and Isaac Asimov would proudly enjoy.
Those larger notion aside, this engrossing and intelligent thriller poses other underlying questions and challenges. 'Moon' is also evocative of such mind-benders as '2001: A Space Odyssey' and 'Solaris (1972)'. Indeed, the whole lunar base is clearly designed after Kubrick's visual masterpiece, while the tone and atmosphere is hauntingly suggestive of Andrei Tarkovsky's philosophical psychodrama. Sam Rockwell navigates through this labyrinth of mise-en-scène and multi-layered concepts with exceptional results, giving 'Moon' the essential emotional arc, and pushing the character to the inevitable point of disillusion and actuality. The fact that he carries the entire picture without missing a beat shows he's at the peak of his career. Duncan Jones, too, steers this complicated ship persuasively and provides the film with a strange minimalist beauty that's at once poetic and idyllic while at the same time nihilistic and morally ambiguous.
Any drawbacks are not the result of the acting or direction but of the script, which Jones co-wrote with Nathan Parker. The narrative comes with a profound and involving concept, yet it never really pushes or explores it further, opting instead for an easy out. The story also drags a bit towards the end of the second half when the mystery and suspense should have reached a pinnacle. Still, these are negligible issues to an otherwise excellent and well-made film from a young director making his feature debut. And for those interested, Duncan Jones is the son of David Jones. Google it if the name is unfamiliar.
'Moon' debuts onto Blu-ray with a clean and deliberate picture that suits the film's subject matter perfectly. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.40:1) boasts a very fine layer of grain that's consistent and gives the transfer an appreciable film-like quality.
Blacks are essential to any movie set in outer space, and here, they appear rich and intense with a pleasant sense of dimension. Contrast levels are equally impressive for the most part and comfortably bright. However, there are some instances of whites suddenly blooming, but this only happens in a couple of scenes and is easily dismissed. The image also maintains terrific visibility and clarity of background info during sequences with poor lighting. Fine object and textural details are strong and generally sharp throughout. From time to time, the picture noticeably softens, but it's nothing too detrimental to the overall presentation. The minimalist photography doesn't allow for an extensive variety of colors, yet primaries are vivid and cleanly rendered. In the end, 'Moon' looks exactly as the filmmakers intended and makes for a great-looking Blu-ray.
The film's sound design makes a likewise impression, as the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack really adds to the tone and mood in this sci-fi thriller. Although 'Moon' consists mainly of the protagonist interacting with himself, the dialogue-driven mix displays quite a bit of activity in the background. Despite there being very little action, random sounds are discretely heard in the rears, creating an enjoyable sense of space and atmosphere. Even silence becomes part of an ominous reality within the narrative and adds to questions of the character's psychological health. The front soundstage is nicely balanced with strong imaging, pitch-perfect vocals, and an inviting acoustical presence. Low-frequency effects are limited to those scenes which require them, and they provide good, realistic depth when used. This may not compare to recent blockbusters, but this lossless track couldn't be any better suited for the film's contemplative pace and tone.
The supplemental package on this Blu-ray edition of 'Moon' mirrors that found on its DVD counterpart. The collection doesn't really delve too deeply into the various aspects explored by the film, but as a whole, it offers some good entertainment after watching the movie.
'Moon' is a stimulating and thought-provoking gem from a young director making his feature debut. With an exceptional performance by Sam Rockwell, it is the sort of hardnosed sci-fi film that's been lacking in the last few years, one which dares to challenge its audience. The Blu-ray edition of the film arrives with a wonderful A/V presentation and a healthy package of supplements. Hardcore sci-fi fans will likely love 'Moon.' It comes highly recommended for everyone else.