Starring Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey; Directed by Duncan Jones; Rated R for language, violence and adult situations; 97 minutes
Too many of the people who prop up Stanley Kubrick’s cerebral 1968 sci-fi film “2001” either have not seen it and are too embarrassed to admit it or have seen it, don’t understand it, and are too embarrassed to admit it. Another group still has seen it, understands it and maintains, despite staunch opposition by the film snob conspiracy, that it is boring, boring, boring. Philip Glass boring. Old Testament on NyQuil boring. Should be outlawed by the Fourth Geneva Convention boring. Duncan Jones’s MOON is no “2001,” and thats a really, really good thing.
Sam Rockwell (“Choke”) plays Sam Bell, the lone technician on a mining colony on the Moon in the late 2020’s. He is nearing the end of his long-haul contract, and looks forward to going back to Earth to visit his wife and daughter. Naturally, peril descends, but is it man-made, alien or the effects of space madness?
Rockwell squarely meets the challenge of a very demanding role, with the most real of on-screen partners being Gertie, the matronly, non-sinister, Three Laws-compliant station computer voiced by Kevin Spacey. Rockwell has a detail-rich blueprint from which to work, in the form of newbie Nathan Parker’s screenplay from Jones’s story. They depict a very plausible future (mining Helium-3 is a possible short-term solution to our Peak Oil problem and is dead-center on NASA’s radar) in which their ordinary hero can live his very mundane life and still shine. Part of the success of Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi staple “Alien” was the set-up — making the audience identify with the characters, who were effectively space truckers. Rockwell, with his chops, Everyguy looks and aw-shucks charisma and confident direction, makes us identify with him.
When your father sings you to sleep with “Space Oddity,” an unlikely pop ballad about the loneliness of life in space, it is little wonder that you grow up and make such a solid and stunning debut film. After all, Jones is otherwise known as Zowie Bowie, son of Ziggy Stardust himself, David Bowie. Jones captures that feeling of sheer, existential loneliness better than Kubrick or anyone ever has, and we don’t have to wake up from a nap in the middle of his story, either.•••
Robert Newton is the editor of North Shore Movies, and runs the Cape Ann Community Cinema in Gloucester, MA.