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‘Moon’ Features Moments of Gravity in Space

Ground Control to Major Duncan: You've really made the grade.

"Moon," a superb first feature directed by Duncan Jones (David Bowie's son) and starring an im-pressive Sam Rockwell, is an intelligent, evocative and deceptively low-key sci-fi adventure.

The minimalist production design renders the futuristic setting gritty and realistic. This intensifies an intriguing story that focuses on exploring solitude and the survival instinct rather than otherworldly phenomena.

Rockwell is in almost every scene and plays a dual role with commanding believability.

He is astronaut Sam Bell, stationed on a base on the far side of the moon, carrying out a three-year contract with Lunar Industries. His assignment involves mining a key source of energy that sup-plies 70 percent of the globe.

It's a job steeped in loneliness. A satellite is broken, so Sam cannot send or receive live communi-cation. But he finds solace in taped video messages from his wife, Tess (Dominique McElligott), and is reassured knowing he has only a short time left before he returns to Earth.

His only "companion" is a robotic computer called Gerty (with the voice of Kevin Spacey), an ex-cellent choice not just for his last name but also for the even timbre of his vocal cadences.

"Moon" wisely eschews the conventions and cliches of the genre and offers just the right elements of surprise.

Sam is not an astronaut in the traditional sense. His work is not scientific exploration for the sake of knowledge. He is employed by an energy corporation, whose motive, of course, is financial profit. What this means for Sam is a key to the story.

The mood and pacing are calibrated to create a sense of growing paranoia while retaining a subtle sense of humor.

Sam's humdrum daily existence plays out compellingly amid a dawning realization that all is not as it seems.

A highlight is Jones' anthropomorphic rendering of Gerty, a tatty machine with arms that look like a dental X-ray machine. But the reassuring voice emanating from it gives it a kindly feel, accentuated by a yellow smiley-face icon that changes to reflect the mood behind Gerty's sentiments.

Like Steven Soderbergh's "Solaris," ''Moon" compellingly probes the human psyche in extreme solitude.

Despite a minor plot hole and a couple of dull patches, "Moon" weaves a tale that is unexpectedly mesmerizing.

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