x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Moon: lunar tunes

The director Duncan Jones's debut feature is a nuanced and elegant look at isolation.

In <i>Moon</i>, Sam Rockwell plays the sole operative of a remote lunar base.
In Moon, Sam Rockwell plays the sole operative of a remote lunar base.

Like father like son; how wonderfully appropriate that the director Duncan Jones's debut feature should signal his introduction with a stylish orbit around themes of severance, loneliness and isolation in the margins of space, just as Space Oddity did for his father, David Bowie, 41 years ago. And just as with that timeless slice of iconoclastic astro-pop, Moon hints at a keen and kooky talent bursting with creativity.

The film was written with Sam Rockwell in mind for the lead role, and he delivers a magnetic performance as Sam Bell. The sole operative of a remote lunar base nearing the end of his mission, mining helium isotopes, Bell is increasingly plagued by the mundanity and repetition of his existence and longs to return to those he loves. Well-established as a charming and energetic player, Rockwell is outstanding as the solitary on-screen presence, by turns laconic, savage, grief-stricken and fatalistic, but always sympathetic and mesmerising. The writer Nathan Parker has imbued the sparse script with genuine soul and wit, avoiding any of the sombre indulgences that afflict so many modern indie flicks. Together with Rockwell's charisma, it makes for a story and character one actually cares for - all too often a novelty in the genre.

As the piece unfolds and it becomes clear that all is not what it seems, overwrought plot twists are spurned in favour of dawning realisations. Moon doffs its cap to the atmospherics of Alien and the classicism of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the psychotic monotone of Hal being replaced in this instance by a more personable Gerty, mellifluously voiced by Kevin Spacey. The ascending mania of The Shining also comes to mind, more muted and less visceral perhaps, but also more nuanced and credible. Indeed, most of us have been stranded at one point - and in one way - or another.

Simple and elegant, Moon avoids grandiose staging and complex special effects - partly owing to strictures of budget, but in the main thanks to originality of thought. It concentrates rather on the incremental building of tension through claustrophobia and looming paranoia. Computer graphics are utilised economically and as such rendered happily unassuming, playing second fiddle to the somewhat antiquated but eerily effective use of brilliantly crafted models. The imaginative and deft manoeuvring of camera angles creates dense interior spaces, and the exteriors are painfully expansive. Each majestic earthrise is a blade to the castaway heart.

Aiding the visual waltzing is a great score from Clint Mansell, the former lead singer of Pop Will Eat Itself. It veers from jarring discord to elegiac arpeggio, sparingly apparent and beautifully framing the mood throughout. Jones intends his next project to be a "spiritual successor to Blade Runner", and if he can only translate the precision of mood that envelops Moon into the opportunities afforded by the inevitable budgetary riches sure to be showered upon him, he may just come up with something very special indeed.