'Moon'

Despite its handsome look, the story stretches a bit thin over feature length.

In the sci-fi drama “Moon,” the apparently sole human inhabitant of a lunar mining base begins experiencing odd phenomena just as he’s about to finish his very lonely stint and return home. U.K.-produced debut feature for advertising whiz Duncan Jones and scenarist Nathan Parker recalls such brainy sci-fiers as “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Solaris.” But despite its handsome look and good thesping workout for Sam Rockwell, the story stretches a bit thin over feature length. Fantasy fans who don’t require monsters or laser battles will want a look, though overall modest impact suggests wider smallscreen exposure after brief theatrical play.

Opening corporate promo reveals that in the near future, our energy-strapped world discovers a new resource in harvesting lunar rock for Helium-3, an actual but rare Earth substance used in nuclear fusion. After nearly three years manning his station alone — with only “robotic assistant” Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey) for company — an edgy, exhausted Sam Bell (Rockwell) is more than ready to rejoin his wife and young daughter. But hallucinations begin to occur, one causing him to crash a Land Rover.

He wakes up considerably enfeebled, then questions his sanity anew upon finding a doppelganger — fitter, and with a hotter temper — now in residence, also insisting he’s Sam Bell. Is one a clone? Are they both? Is Sam’s three-year work contract even meant to have survived?

These questions are intriguing enough but aren’t played out in especially suspenseful or surprising fashion by director or scribe (working from Jones’ original story idea). Instead, “Moon” actually gets a little dull in the later reels, just when it should be peaking in mystery and tension.

There’s not quite enough complexity of incident or character development here, though Rockwell — who’s become something of a specialist in characters losing their grip (“Snow Angels,” “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” “Joshua”) is very good portraying the amiable astronaut’s mental and physical deterioration. (He’s less convincing putting across Sam No. 2’s initial “Top Gun”-style macho bluster.)

The space station’s mostly white interiors particularly recall “2001,” though Gerty doesn’t quite turn out to be another HAL. Lunar exterior scenes are also nicely handled by the design team’s mix of f/x techniques. Clint Mansell’s atmospheric score is a plus.

Moon

U.S.-U.K.

Production

A Stage 6 Films (U.S.) presentation of a Liberty Films (U.K.) production, in association with Xingu Films and Limelight. (International sales: Independent, London.) Produced by Stuart Fenegan, Trudie Styler. Executive producers, Michael Henry, Bill Zysblat, Trevor Beattie, Bil Bungay. Co-producers, Nicky Moss, Alex Francis, Mark Folingo, Steve Milne. Directed by Duncan Jones. Screenplay, Nathan Parker, from a story by Jones.

Crew

Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Gary Shaw; editor, Nicolas Gastor; music, Clint Mansell; production designer, Tony Noble; conceptual designer, Gavin Rothery; art director, Hideki Arichi; costume designer, Jane Petrie; sound (Dolby Digital), Patrick Owen; visual effects and character animation, Cinesite; assistant director, Mick Ward; casting, Jerry Zimmermann, Manuel Puro. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 16, 2009. Running time: 97 MIN.

With

Sam Rockwell, Dominique McElligott, Kaya Scodelario, Benedict Wong, Matt Berry, Malcolm Stewart, Kevin Spacey.

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