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Film Review: "Moon" (2009) Duncan Jones

"Moon" (2009) Duncan Jones via cinematical blog Production still from "Moon" (2009) via

I was able to catch “Moon” as well as a Q&A with the director the very interesting Duncan Jones at this year's Minneapolis - Saint Paul International Film Fest.

Duncan Jones is an interesting director. Being the son of David Bowie may be the first thing that comes up in conversation about Duncan (aka Zowie Bowie, aka Joey Bowie), but his work definitely stands alone. Through the Q&A he was smart, witty, and willing to discuss all.

This film was great, especially considering it was Duncan Jones' first feature film. The film's budget was around $5-million and filming took a period of about a month. The budget may seem like a lot for a independent film, but considering other independents with a $50-million budget it quickly is dwarfed. Duncan first took this to Sundance Film Festival in order to get a distributor. Which he gladly has found in Sony and is going to be released to theaters May 25th, 2009.

The Synopsis

Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is nearing the end of his contract with Lunar. He's been a faithful employee for 3 long years. His home has been Selene, a moon base where he has spent his days alone, mining Helium 3. The precious gas holds the key to reversing the Earth's energy crisis. Isolated, determined and steadfast, Sam has followed the rulebook obediently and his time on the moon has been enlightening, but uneventful. The solitude has given him time to reflect on the mistakes of his past and work on his raging temper. He does his job mechanically, and spends most of his available time dreaming of his imminent return to Earth, to his wife, young daughter and an early retirement. But 2 weeks shy of his departure from Selene, Sam starts seeing things, hearing things and feeling strange. -- IMDB

The Technical Review

This film is an interesting homage to 70's and 80's sci-fi films past. And maintains that style in terms of set design, effects, and delightfully restrained screen writing. This is not some "Iron Man" special effects driven film. The most notable films referenced are “Alien” (Riley Scott, 1979) and “2001: A Space Odyssey” (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) from which sets, characters, and effects are derived/distilled/borrowed. In terms of story telling I found it very close to "Alien" in its Film Noir, silent suspense which I love.

Duncan wrote this film with Sam Rockwell in mind. Gladly Sam decided to go along for the ride. His acting in this film was great. Being the only actor he WAS the entire film. He played a very psychologically intense character who finds himself going insane after nearing the end of his 3-year solo contract on the moon. [OR IS HE?]

In fact the “Alien” connection is even closer in that the set looks strikingly similar to the main spaceship set of “Alien” (the brightly lit white room of the dining room from the chest burster scene). Duncan didn’t stop with only taking from “Alien”, he also created a robot named Gerdy that plays the same role as Hal in “2001: A Space Odyssey”; for which I waited the whole film to only to find out the one difference in characters is that Gerdy does not try to kill the main character Sam. The tension between the similarities of Hal and Gerdy were played out in a peculiar way in that he was made to seem malevolent.

The cinematography was amazing. At times it felt much like the more static filming in “Alien” where the one camera would film the scene statically mixed with close-up and first-person point-of-view (in this case since Sam is mostly alone the first-person is him looking at his computer screen then the computer screen looking back at him). This mixes with modern filming techniques as computer tracking shots so the camera can follow the same track as many times as needed so that Sam can be filmed in multiples with the same actor.

From the Q&A I gained some unique insight. The film was made with a $5-million budget. He compared it to his advertising work where he had roughly 2/3 that budget for 30-second clip for a popular beer brand. I found this limitation impressive, as the quality of the film did not show any strains due to budget. The 70’s era effects and costumes were done really well in that they did not distract but instead certainly enhanced the overall film. Most of the effects were done on a 30x30-foot sound-stage with minimal digital work (mostly as digital set extension to make the set seem moon sized).

This is Duncan’s first feature movie. He is a very young directory, out of a small film school in London. I enjoyed this film. I view it as an impressive first feature for Duncan Jones. Though if it weren’t for Sam Rockwell’s excellent acting the film could have been an unwatchable disaster. I look forward to a hopefully new feature from Duncan. I will be watching this film again when it comes back to Minneapolis at The Lagoon Theater in the end of June.

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