It's Time To Go Back To Duncan Jones' MoonS

Moon was one of the most intriguing movies of 2009. Paranoid and claustrophobic where other science-fiction films were huge and explosion-happy, Moon relied on one special effect: Sam Rockwell's acting. And now it's out on DVD. Spoilers ahead.

If you missed out on Duncan Jones' lunar masterpiece the first time, or even if you caught it in its all-too-limited theatrical run, the DVD release is a great opportunity. This is definitely one of those films that loses nothing in its transition to the small screen, and it's also a film in which you will pick up little subtleties on the second or third viewing that you missed the first time. Jones didn't just make the most of his limited budget — he also made every minute of running time count.

And I almost forgot to include these — here are some DVD clips the studio sent us:

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In case you missed our review when the film hit theaters, Moon stars Rockwell as Sam Bell, a lone miner stuck in a moonbase, mining Helium-3, an energy source desperately needed back on Earth. Sam's nearing the end of his three-year tour of duty, and he's starting to hallucinate, but also to see worrying signs that nothing in his tiny world is what it seems. And that's before he has a near-fatal crash in his Harvester vehicle, and meets the absolute last person he ever expected to run into: himself.

It's Time To Go Back To Duncan Jones' MoonS

Most of the film's genius comes from the interactions between the two Sam Rockwells. Rockwell turns out to have absolutely brilliant comic timing with himself. He also does a fantastic job of playing two very different versions of the same character, and making those differences clear without showboating or overplaying it. The two Sam Bells, driving each other batty and bouncing off the moonbase's built-in robot Gerty (Kevin Spacey), form one of the more memorable characters in recent science fiction and leave you with an indelible sense of just how much it sucks to be Sam Bell.

Like the movie, the DVD is pretty austere and does a lot with a small amount of resources. The menus are really cute, including the "scene selections" menu, which uses Gerty's smiley-face as the "return to main menu" button.

It's Time To Go Back To Duncan Jones' MoonS

There's one making-of featurette, which doesn't outstay its welcome but does give you a powerful sense of just how crazy this project was — the moonbase set was completely enclosed, with no open spaces for cameras, and Rockwell and the crew were sealed inside it every day during filming. The cameras had to work around the obstacles of the set, or film through holes in the walls. Rockwell talks about how he made little audio cues, like coughing, to let his "other" self know when to react to something he was doing — because all he had when he acted opposite himself was the audio playback.

Sam's command chair is actually the chair from the make-up room, pilfered and put to work on the moonbase. and bits of the set were sold off to crew members after filming ended, including the nice screens.

It's Time To Go Back To Duncan Jones' MoonS

Also, I knew that Jones wrote Moon specifically for Rockwell, but didn't realize that this happened after Rockwell had already turned down a different script that Jones offered him, a non-science fiction project. Thank goodness Rockwell expressed an interest in doing something science-fictional.

Also on the extras is a 2000 short science-fiction film by Jones called "Whisper" and the filmmakers' Q&A at Sundance.

There are two commentary tracks. The first, with Jones and a host of crewmembers, is mostly just a lot of incoherent joking around from a group of people who were sealed inside a blaring white tomb for months together, and is eminently skippable. But the second, featuring just Jones and Producer Stuart Fennegan, is indispensible. Jones explains just what's CG and what's practical effects in each sequence, and I was often surprised to learn which was which — the lunar surface is mostly model work, but there's a fair amount of CG in the foreground and background. When Sam is carrying himself, he's actually carrying a dummy, with Sam's face added digitally afterwards. Gerty is also CG a surprising amount of the time. The film may be a triumph of practical effects and low-fi trickery, but it wouldn't have been possible without digital manipulation.

You'll learn quite how many little touches and in-jokes are in the movie - like the fact that Sam's houseplants are actually named after science-fiction directors. There's Ridley, Kathryn, James, and so on.

You also get the feeling, listening to the commentary, that Jones and Fenegan really were making this film by the skin of their teeth — it wasn't a foregone conclusion that Moon would even exist, at the end of the day.

It's Time To Go Back To Duncan Jones' MoonS

I guess movie-making is always a form of madness — it has to be, given how huge an undertaking it's become. But usually it's the madness of Hollywood power-mongers struggling to turn an incoherent digital rampage made up of branded content into another money spout. To explore the DVD of Moon is to witness another kind of madness at work — the madness of the small science-fiction auteur, and that in turn gives you a greater appreciation for the madness that Sam Rockwell embodies on screen.