Jun 11 2009 4:40pm

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.

Pablo Defendini
1. pablodefendini
Duncan Jones is also David Bowie's son. The fruit of the loin of Ziggy Stardust, if you will. That, in my book, clocks in as #8.

Moon looks amazing—SF done right. I can't wait to see it.
Tudza White
2. tudzax1
Uh, from what I'm reading on what seem to be reliable sites, you certainly can see stars from the surface of the moon. I think what you might be talking about is that, if you take a picture when the sun is shining, your camera will be too overwhelmed by that to show any stars in the sky. Same goes for your eyes. However, it seems astronauts could see stars while on the moon when the conditions were right.
Lou Anders
3. LouAnders
Very aware of his dad, but wasn't when the movie first caught my eye. And didn't mention it here because I figured he'd be sick of answering questions about his father and wanting to be taken seriously as an artist in his own right. That being said, if dad contributed the soundtrack to any Jones-helmed future SF epics, cool.
Lou Anders
4. LouAnders
Tudzaxi, thanks for that. He did mention that he supposed a camera could be made to capture it, so it looks like Jones is correct and I am misrepresenting him.
Christopher Key
5. Artanian
Dallas on July 3, should be interesting.
Lou Anders
6. LouAnders
Again, sucks that everyone will have seen it before I can.
Pablo Defendini
7. pablodefendini
@ Lou #3
Oh, he certainly seems to be an able filmmaker in his own right, I didn't mean to imply that being David Bowie's son diminishes his chops in any way—quite the contrary, it seems that the Thin White Duke has raised a thinking, hard-SF-loving son, and that's a good, good thing.
Lou Anders
8. LouAnders
Oh, no, I didn't mean to imply that you were implying that at all. And in fact, in one interview he talks about how it was his dad who turned him on to science fiction literature to begin with and pointed him at authors like Ballard, Gibson, and PKD, which isn't surprising at all, but very good to hear.
Pablo Defendini
9. pablodefendini
Oh dear. I didn't mean to imply that you were implying that I was implying that either.

After you. No, after you. No, please, I insist—after you... :)
Luke M
10. lmelior
@Lou #4
He did word it rather awkwardly in the interview. Maybe I'm missing something here, but I'm pretty sure that he would want the audience to feel like they're on the moon with the character as opposed to knowing they're watching him through a video camera. If that's the case then it really doesn't make sense not to show the stars.

I've seen Zubrin on a number of Science Channel shows (many of the space shows are essentially the same with updated information). But I never got tired of them. It's really quite sad when you realize what we are able do technologically but not politically or economically.

Sony's site says this is coming to my area on July 3rd, but unfortunately I doubt I'll be able to make it. Sounds very interesting, and I agree, Sam Rockwell is great.
Lou Anders
11. LouAnders
Yeah, looking at his quote, it's a bit hard to know, though I wonder if that was a longer quote cut down. His talking about cameras made me feel like it was "with a camera" that he meant. However, even if he's got it wrong, this is the kind of wrong I can forgive. It's a thousand miles away from *touching the sun!!!* etc... Or, for that matter, having a supernova threaten the entire GALAXY, which another film did recently.
Nicholas Waller
12. Nicholas Waller
The problem with seeing or photographing stars on the lunar surface is is surely all connected with whatever other light is out there shining into your lens too.

For instance, on a dark clear night on Earth you can see a fabulous Milky Way and the majesty of loads of mighty stars like flaming diamonds on black velvet - but then your friend comes along and shines a cheap flashlight in your eyes and boom! no more stars, as your eyes adjust and your night vision is destroyed.

Similarly with cameras. In the daytime the sunlight is so bright that the aperture must be small and/or exposures very short so as not to overexpose the ground/lunar module/people/spacbase, but that blots out the (relatively feeble) stars. At night-time on the moon (and without your astromate shining a space flashlight in your eyes) you would see stars all over the place in the sky. My god, it's full of stars.

Even in the daytime on the moon with a camera in shadow (well flagged off so there was no startrekky flaring in the lens) you could take star pictures with the right exposure setting.
Nicholas Waller
13. Jim Henry III
It sounds cool, but oddly enough it's apparently not going to show in Atlanta, or anywhere in Georgia, at all -- "oddly" given that it's showing in a number of smaller cities. I think Knoxville or Nashville is the closest to me.
Nicholas Waller
14. J. A.
I really enjoyed this post, as I find many of my own favorite sci-fi films on your list. (I also cringe at the labeling of anything Bay-related as sci-fi.) "Moon" looks great; I'm hoping it will actually open close to my location.

However, I do have one small disagreement to mention; I interpreted the ending of "Sunshine" as symbolic, not literal. The screenwriter, Alex Garland, has said that the film is about meeting God, and that's how I read it. When interpreting much of the film in this light, it becomes much more layered and meaningful, in my opinion.
Bob Blough
15. Bob
This is something to look forward to - a movie that isn't based on the precepts of the pulps of the 30's and also not from a Hollywood committee (those committees ruin more movies than just the SF ones)but may well be a literate movie with CHARACTER AND SF. That would be terrific.

I have to say I agree with J.A. about "Sunshine", but your list of good sf films includes 95% of mine as well. And, yes, the Soderbergh "Solaris" is on it. Good to not feel so alone about that one!
Lou Anders
16. LouAnders
Nicholas - thanks for the clarification. Interesting how the post has spun off this discussion.

JA & Bob - thank you both. Okay, I'm grudgingly admit to liking a larger part of Sunshine. I thought the bit about fixing the solar dish was incredible, and liked the majority of the film leading up to the ending. I did object to the whole mystification of the sun, the idea that just getting next to it would drive you mad, etc... I understand they were trying to say something about the divine, but it didn't work for me. And what they found when they got there disappointed. I think I was hoping for a sort of Abyss type ending with life in the sun or something. I did admire the way it was a mash-up of 2001, 2010, and Event Horizon.

Anyway, glad people are interested in Moon, despite my spinning us off into discussions of star fields and sunshines!
Nicholas Waller
17. Scott Parker
Normally, when rock acts blow through Houston (Jones's dad included), we get the Greatest Hits-type show rather than a city where said artists break out the rare album cut. That seems to be the impression non-Houstonians have of my town. But I love living in Houston, less than an hour away from NASA. Thus, I'm not surprised (and quite happy) that Moon is coming here. And I have July 3 off.
Blue Tyson
18. BlueTyson

Not everybody. Australian site says September 3.
Nicholas Waller
19. TonySolorzano
Lou, I saw the movie the first day of release here in LA and were it not for other plans that day, I would have opted to seeing it later in the afternoon, where the audience was treated to a Q&A with Duncan Jones.

Premise wise, I found the movie to be right in line with Silent Running and Outland, both of which were brought to mind as I watched it. No doubt you have seen the "Lunar Industries" commercial clip that opens the movie, the visuals of those opening credits really set a tone for the whole movie. Duncan Jones really did some great work on "Moon" and I would tell you that however long it takes for this to get to you will be worth the wait, you'll be really moved by it.

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