Spend any amount of time on film-buff sites, and you’re liable to hear the words “Sam Rockwell” and “underrated” come up fairly often. Though our own Bob Cashill has pegged Rockwell as box office poison, he always earns critical raves for his work — and they’ve never been more deserved than they were for his picture-carrying turn at the heart of Duncan Jones’ Moon. Here, Rockwell dominates literally every moment as Sam Bell, the Lunar Industries employee who’s the sole resident of a moon base used for mining Helium 3, the element that, in the film’s future tense, has solved the world’s energy crisis. Sam’s contract is almost up, meaning he’s had no one but the base’s computer (voiced by Kevin Spacey) for companionship for nearly three years — the base’s live communications feed doesn’t even work, knocked out by solar flares, and Sam’s only contact with his wife and young daughter comes via periodic pre-recorded video messages.
With two weeks left on his contract, the end is in sight for Sam…but has his time on the moon taken a deeper psychological toll than he realizes? All I can say without giving anything away is that things start to get a little weird for Sam, and then they start to get a lot weird. Moon isn’t quite the shocking sci-fi thriller that early reviews made it out to be — as Mr. Cashill noted in his short review, you pretty much know what’s going on by the middle of the film — but the movie doesn’t need to keep you guessing to keep you enthralled, thanks to a lean Nathan Parker script (from an original idea by Jones) and, again, Rockwell’s magnetic performance holding it all together. It’s a small, claustrophobic movie; one that unsettles you and lingers long after the closing credits fade.
Like another low-budget sci-fi standout from ’09, District 9, the Blu-ray edition of Moon looks wonderful. As Jones explains in one of the bonus featurettes, he combined models with CG effects to recreate the surface of the moon, and it works brilliantly; there’s one shot that looks a little flaky, but by and large, you really feel the cold isolation of space. Moon‘s internal shots take place in a base designed with the bold lines and thick curves of ’60s and ’70s sci-fi, a smart bit of retro leaning that makes the film feel real in a way it might not have otherwise. Space movies tend to go too far one way or the other — stuff is either too clean and futuristic or too steampunk-y — but Moon gives you something you can believe in; the Lunar Industries base looks lived-in, just the way you’d expect a place to look after playing host to a succession of stir-crazy astronauts.
Aside from a pristine 1080p transfer, the Moon Blu-ray boasts a smattering of special content, including a pair of commentary tracks (both featuring Jones with a variety of behind-the-scenes personnel, including his producer, his DP, and designers), a mini-doc recounting the making of the film, the work that went into the visual effects (including the rather incredible work Rockwell had to do), and BD-Live features. Not a ton of added value for a title that’s pre-ordering for $25 a few weeks ahead of its January 12 release date, but when the main feature is as absorbing as this one, who needs extra stuff to make a movie worth owning?