Why I am Over the Moon about Duncan Jones

While I admit to massively loving the new Star Trek film, when I look back at my favorite SF films of all time, very few of them are of the summer blockbuster variety. My faves include films like Gattaca, Dark City, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Through a Scanner Darkly, Primer, Outland, Silent Running… My wife and I might be the only two people in the world who liked Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney’s Solaris—we were certainly the only two in the theater who did! (Half the tiny audience we saw it with walked out.) Blade Runner of course. The under-appreciated Enemy Mine. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s brilliant City of Lost Children and Delicatessen.

Whereas I didn’t even bother with going to see Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds or the new The Day the Earth Stood Still. And I cringe whenever anyone refers to Transformers as “sci-fi.” Sure, I like the first Matrix a lot (or did until they ruined it for me with Revolutions), all James Cameron’s SF outings, and, naturally, Star Trek II, IV, & VI—it’s not a big verses small film thing. It’s a smart film vs. dumb film thing. It’s just that often smaller productions are allowed to be smart in a way too much studio interference precludes. Unless you have a director like James Cameron or Peter Jackson who both gets it and has the clout to get their way, there are just too many opportunities in summer blockbusters for a script to get twisted out of alignment by star egos, studio heads, bean counters, test marketers…. Too many cooks, broth, you know the drill.

So I’ve been really excited from the very first I heard of it by Duncan Jones’ forthcoming, modestly-budgeted Moon. Certainly, it looks like a small scale, character-driven, emotionally gripping drama that happens to be science fiction, and not an excuse to, I don’t know, blow the moon up or send it careening into the sun, because, hey, it looks cool. So I’ve been following the guy on Twitter (@ManMadeMoon), where, ironically, his complaining about the bars closing at 2am in Los Angeles was almost enough to make me worry if maybe I was misplacing my faith. (I kid. Really. To be fair, if I were looking at the imminent premiere of my very first ever film, bars in LA are exactly where I’d want to be too, and one has to be impressed with his efforts to use crowd sourcing to get a date with Moon Bloodgood.) So, not slamming him at all here, just saying that my experience in and of Hollywood is that most of them think science fiction is a backdrop for explosions on a grand scale and an excuse to make up whatever they want. I’ll never get over the scene in Danny Boyle’s absurd and disappointing Sunshine where Cillian Murphy reaches out and touches the sun, because, hey, it looks cool. So, the point is, I was looking for reasons to feel confident.

And, wonderfully, just about every interview I’ve read with Duncan has got my confidence growing in leaps and bounds that his heart—and head—are in the right place. To wit:

  1. He’s read the real stuff. My impressions working in LA was that most in the film business don’t know what a book is and are surprised to learn that people still read. Whereas Duncan has stated that he grew up reading George Orwell, John Wyndham, J.G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, and other science fiction authors.

  2. He has stated that Moon was conceived of with ideas from Robert Zubrin’s book Entering Space, which was about colonizing the solar system in a realistic, fiscally viable way. Furthermore, he has stated several times his intention to create a film based in hard science.

  3. When talked in a SciFi Wire interview about how he fudged science in the film, he didn’t allude to any stupid “touch the sun” moments. Instead, he explained that he was very aware that you cannot see stars from the lunar surface, but that they had to include a star field as a stylistic necessity for the audience to believe this actually was the moon and not a prop. As dramatic necessities go, I like this a lot more than the inevitable sound in space battles.

  4. He actually bothered to screen the film at the NASA Space Center.

  5. He says that he wants to make more science fiction films, and if the scale gets bigger, the focus on smart character dramas won’t be lost.

  6. He knows what Outland and Silent Running are.

  7. Hey, he cast the great Sam Rockwell in a leading role.

The film opens in New York and LA tomorrow. But sadly it isn’t scheduled to come anywhere near me yet, so the blogosphere will have given its verdict way before I get to see it.But I’m really hopeful that that verdict will be positive, and even more hopeful that Moon will be financially successful. Because I’d much rather have this guy making my future summer blockbusters than Michael Bay. To feel otherwise seems like pure lunacy.

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