A couple weeks ago, I was in one of this blog’s “lovely” periods where it seemed like nearly every other movie I watched was unbearably dull or simply awful. Those are not fun times for me because as I’ve discussed in the past, the quality of films I view on here can be “streaky”. Most of the time, it’s a healthy mix of films I enjoy and I films I abhor or simply don’t enjoy. The blog tends to skew towards good because I intentionally choose culturally relevant and award-nominated films for my big list, but there will be moments where it seems like the random number gods who created the order of my list were taking special pleasure in torturing me with subpar films. We are currently in the promised land of this blog where it seem like everything I watch is delightful and I know I’m cursing myself by bringing it up (since the next movie in my instant queue is a nearly 3 hour biopic about Hitler and the other movie I have at home is a documentary about some family with like 16 children, I know this streak is ending soon). I just finished the 2009 low-budget sci-fi film Moon which has slowly been developing a cult following over the last few years, and while I’m not sure if I thought it was as brilliant as everyone else, it’s still a great reminder of intellectually demanding science fiction.

On the moon station Sarang, astronaut/engineer Sam Bell (Choke‘s Sam Rockwell) is two weeks away from finally getting to return home after a three year contract running energy conglomerate LUNAR’s mining operation all by himself on the far side of the moon. Since the live satellite feed is down, Sam’s only contact with other people has been his robot assistant Gerty (Kevin Spacey) and video messages that are weeks old (without any ability to contact them back himself). One day, Sam starts to experience strange visions and after a wreck in his lunar rover, things quickly spiral out of control. Waking up in the infirmary of his lunar station, Sam grows suspicious when he hears Gerty speaking on the “broken” satellite feed with his superiors and with the fact that he isn’t allowed outside of the station. Tricking Gerty into letting him out, Sam stumbles upon the same rover he crashed before but with a major, shocking twist. His  still alivebody is still inside it. One of these Sam’s has to be a clone, and as they work together to figure out just what exactly LUNAR has been up to, the clock is running out as a clean-up squad is heading to the base to take care of things once and for all.

Perhaps one of the reasons that I wasn’t as bowled over with this film as everyone else (although I still really enjoyed it) was that I’ve probably had more exposure to “cloning blues” plots than your average non-science fiction fan. The new Battlestar Galactica treaded similar thematic territory to far stronger results (as well as the criminally under-appreciated A.I. from Steven Spielberg which I still think is one of his three best films). The only really new element that this film added to the whole “what does it really mean to be human” debate was adding a level of isolation to the proceedings and turning fairly well-tread science fiction fodder into a slow-boiling psychological thriller. Still, for a film that was made with absolutely no budget ($5 million), it was impressive just what the movie was able to accomplish in the effects department as well as plot by utilizing essentially one actor on screen for the entire film (there were others but we only ever saw them on video screens and Kevin Spacey just did voice-over).

Sam Rockwell was carrying basically the entire film on his shoulders since he was playing not one but two characters. And to be honest, I felt like he stumbled a little bit. It’s not that he did a bad job, and he’s really come a long way over the years (even if this performance wasn’t as good as Choke‘s), but the film would have been better off hiring a more experienced actor. Sam Rockwell never seemed capable of tapping into the same kind of anger and frustration that his character was obviously written as feeling. Instead, he simply seemed to be operating in an eternal state of confusion and bland misery. Kevin Spacey did a great job though of capturing the monotone voice of famous sci-fi A.I. like HAL or GlaDos, but he also played around with it a little bit by seeming to poke at hidden layers of emotion that Gerty was desperately wanting to let through but couldn’t seem to because of his programming.

If you’re a fan of “hard” science fiction (i.e. fairly realistic and possible rather than aliens and lightsabers and such), Moon will make you wonder why so much sci-fi feels the need to push things to the borders of fantasy and beyond. Generally, for all fans of science fiction, it is a refreshingly smart and understated film even if its not quite as boundary-pushing as its fans believe. The plot moves along at its own, deliberate pace, but since the movie’s running time is only an hour and a half, it’s slowness works because it always the tension to slowly bubble and fizzle til the movies final climactic moments. It was a promising debut film from David Bowie’s son, Zowie Bowie (credited as Dunacn Jones for the film), and I’m excited to see what else this talented director has up his sleeves.

Final Score: B+

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