July 1, 2009

300 Words About: Moon

[Moon opens this Friday at the Landmark Uptown Cinema. These thoughts follow the preview I wrote after seeing Moon at MSPIFF, followed by a Q & A with writer-director Duncan Jones.]

Like driving in Minnesota in January...

As I mentioned in that meme thing a while ago, one of the things I love about movies set in the future is that the imagination can run completely wild. Even when this blank slate leads to perhaps overly ambitious ideas, it's still fun to consider the possible delights. Or in the case of a movie like Moon, consider the possible horrors. It's not a frightening movie to watch, but the core elements of the story are enough to keep any technophobe up at night, possibly terrified of impending developments in biomedical engineering and astrophysics.

Based on its production budget alone (if not also your ticket price), Moon is likely the biggest bang for the buck you'll see all year. Working with a paltry $5 million, writer-director Duncan Jones constructed an astonishingly impressive lunar surface by using the ancient technique of scaled models. I'm of the opinion that for the most part, bigger budgets and bigger CGI developments have led to less impressive and less realistic effects, and I'm even tempted, for example, to argue that the effects in the original Star Wars trilogy are better than the prequels. But I refuse to spending enough time watching the prequels to find that evidence.
Anyway, in addition to appreciating the story potential and the high production values of Moon, I was bowled over by the elegant, haunting piano score by Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain).

Unfortunately, what Moon boasts in technical achievements it lacks in emotional depth. Our protagonist is Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell, a personal friend of Jones for whom the part was specifically written), a contract employee of Lunar Industries who is finishing a 3 year-term living alone on the moon - that is, aside from the a sentient computer, Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey). His work mining Helium-3 from the lunar surface is monotonous and isolating, and as he begins to prepare for his trip back home to his wife and child, Sam makes a highly disturbing discovery.

While Rockwell does his best to bear the emotional burden of his character, there was something missing at a deeper level of the story for me. Maybe Jones felt that more involvement from Gerty, for example, would make Moon more of a knock-off of 2001 than it already is. Whatever happened, Moon ultimately didn't horrify or disturb me nearly as much as I expected, or, to be honest, as much as I hoped.

Jones is next directing Mute, "about a woman whose disappearance causes a mystery for her partner, a mute bartender. When she disappears, he has to go up against the city’s gangsters." He has $25 million to work with this time, and considering he made Moon look so good for so little, I hope he invests more resources this time in somehow developing a little more emotional "oomph" from another promising premise.


  1. Can't read all of this as I'd like to see the film, but I saw this:

    "I'm of the opinion that for the most part, bigger budgets and bigger CGI developments have led to less impressive and less realistic effects, and I'm even tempted, for example, to argue that the effects in the original Star Wars trilogy are better than the prequels"

    Amen, brother. I'd never think myself a luddite, but technology only stifles creativity as it pertains to filmmaking. The computer guys might get to see THEIR creativity flourish, but I don't think that translates to the screen very well. I'd much, much, much rather watch Michel Gondry work his lo-fi magic than see the whiz-bammery of a Transformers. The magic of today's computers should be used only to enhance effects; that's where the mistake is made (looking squarely at you, Lucas).

  2. Luddites unite! I love the term "luddite".

    You pretty much nail it all right there. Despite all of the shiny effects and big explosions (whether it be Transformers or Terminator Salvation), some of the old magic is gone. But...I should confess that the effects in Star Trek and Sunshine (two space movies, like Moon) looked pretty excellent.

    Speaking of Sunshine, that was kind of dark, claustrophobic tone I was hoping for here. You know, without the space zombie.

  3. Lucky bastard. I have been waiting to see this film.

  4. I am no fan of this film, despite Sam Rockwell's valient efforts and the sublime score by Clint Mansell. And I admit I do love science-fiction/futuristic films for the most part. This was cliched, redundant, tedious, and ultimately torturous to sit through.

    I think your fine review makes enough of these points most clear.

  5. Look forward to your thoughts, Film-Book. It ought to be out wide fairly soon. But the Q & A screening was definitely a bonus. Jones wore the yellow spacesuit Rockwell's character wears in the movie.

    Thanks, Sam, and I know I liked it significantly more than you did. I didn't really find it cliched (though not entirely original), but I don't think it reached its potential. I'll still watch it again because there was enough cool stuff to look at, and I'm definitely looking forward to Mute.

  6. Caught a matinee at the uptown today. I'm a huge fan of 2001 and Solaris (the original, though the remake isn't completely without charm) and I really enjoyed how Moon turned the familiar tropes of its (at times painfully obvious) inspirations on their heads.

  7. I'm still looking forward to seeing this, though less so with this fine 300 (or so) word review.


  8. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Knarf - always nice to have another Minneapolitan in the mix. I think 2001 is obviously a classic, and I haven't seen the original Solaris. The remake, though I haven't seen it in a long time, seemed too pretentious and Soderberghy smarmy for me. Anyway, Moon does do fairly well in establishing its own identity. I don't know why I just thought of this, but I'd even welcome a sequel and see if Jones can build off of it a little bit.

    Thanks, Rick, I know you've been waiting for this one for a while and I still think you've gotta check it out. I'm not down on it at all, just thought there was a little more juice to squeeze out of it.

  9. I liked Moon a lot, mainly because of the amazing Sam Rockwell. I swear I have some kind of weird man crush on that guy because I love him in everything he's in.

    I agree with you about budgets and effects. I'm an old-school model guy. The fancy CGI is impressive, but there's a tactile quality that's still missing. A model is obviously a model, but it actually exists.

  10. Your last sentence should be the slogan for some production company that specializes in movies like this. The funny thing is, I'm pretty sure Jones proves with Moon that in some small way, most of the other guys are spending a lot more money to make their movies look a lot more fake.

  11. The other guys are spending money to cover up for the fact that money is all they have.

  12. Or in the case of George Lucas, money and a captive audience they know they can exploit.

  13. Finally saw this on Friday, and it appears as though I dug it a bit more than you. I had tried not to read much about it beforehand, and I think I succeeded, as the surprises that came were actually surprises to me. Very well thought out and executed film, and the fact that it didn't go in the obvious directions (evil computer) is probably its biggest asset. Still, that doesn't overshadow the great performance by Rockwell; I enjoyed him more here than I have probably since Galaxy Quest.

  14. Wow, Rockwell was in Galaxy Quest? I never saw it so as to avoid Tim Allen, but I just looked at the cast and it was surprisingly well filled out.

    I agree that an evil computer was not missed here, though I have to admit it was so similar to Hal that I really wasn't able to accept its "character". Assuming you review this I'll see where your focus your praise, as everybody can really appreciate different parts of this.

  15. What what what?!? You haven't seen Galaxy Quest?

    Don't let Allen's presence fool you - it's one of the best comedies of the last 20 years (more of the "really well made" variety than the "laugh out loud" variety), and it gets better every time you see it. It would be a prime candidate for your UMOTM. I'm sure many others could chime in with their love for it. I highly recommend it.

  16. I'm pretty sure I've seen you mention GQ before but I guess I just thought you were a big Tim Allen fan or something, haha. It would really have to grow on me to get UMOTM credentials, but per your recommendation I will put it in the hopper.

  17. "I guess I just thought you were a big Tim Allen fan or something, haha"

    How dare you, sir. Them's fightin' words...

  18. Here's where I admit to kind of like "Home Improvement" back in the day...

    Man, looking at this guy's credits, I can't believe how many Disney-ish movies he's been in. Jungle 2 Jungle, Joe Somebody, the Toy Story trilogy, GQ, Zoom, the Santa Clause trilogy, Wild Hogs. And then, randomly, Redbelt last year.


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