Duncan Jones looks back on his sci-fi classic Moon starring Sam Rockwell, 10 years later
Warning: This article contains spoilers about the film Moon. Read at your own risk!
Blame the Kubrickian timelessness of writer-director Duncan Jones‘ much-loved science fiction film and directorial debut Moon, but even its creator finds it hard to believe the movie was released 10 years ago. “I still think of myself as kind of the new guy on the block [trying] to break in to making movies,” says the filmmaker, who would go on to direct 2011’s Source Code, 2016’s Warcraft, and last year’s Mute. “And here I am, with a 10th anniversary on a movie!”
In Moon, Sam Rockwell plays a lunar miner named Sam Bell, who discovers a doppelgänger and comes to the horrifying realization that they are both clones. To mark the film’s anniversary, Moon is being released July 16 on 4K Ultra HD.
“I think all of us who worked on the film were both shocked and delighted that the film has maintained the life it has,” says Jones. “We really wanted some way to remember this anniversary. We’re very grateful Sony was willing to back that, and allowed me to be involved in really making the 4K as visually strong as we were able to, and redoing the sound, and really bringing a new level of fidelity. We’re really very happy with it.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Clearly you’re a big science fiction fan. What had you grown up watching?
DUNCAN JONES: All sorts of things. But, to be honest, I am old enough that, back when I started watching movies, it was U-matics and VHS’s. It was a lot of James Cagney and Errol Flynn movies but we did have this treasured U-matic pirate copy of Star Wars, fairly close to when the movie came out. So, that was definitely a treasure. A lot of the kids from school would come ’round to my house, and we would watch Star Wars, which actually had to come on two tapes because U-matic tapes didn’t hold enough to watch a whole movie.
I’m actually older than you, but I have no idea what a U-matic is.
[Laughs] Sony U-matic tapes. They were about an inch-and-a-half thick and quite large, almost the size of a briefcase.
What was the genesis of Moon?
I was a big fan of Sam Rockwell, and had been working on a feature script for the film Mute, which I ended up making and came out on Netflix. I had sent the script for Mute to Sam Rockwell, to try to convince him to play the character that Justin Theroux ended up playing. Sam loved the script, and wanted to work with me, but he wanted to play a different role than the one I had envisioned for him, and we met up in New York to try and convince each other. And although it didn’t work out on that project, what we did agree with is, it would be wonderful to work together, and if I could write something that was more what he was interested in at that moment in time, I should get back to him. I immediately left that meeting with this agenda to write something that Sam Rockwell would be interested in, and that was the script for Moon.
So, the casting happened before the writing?
Absolutely. We thought we could probably raise a certain amount of money, which was about $5 million. We knew that we wanted to keep the cast as small as possible, and obviously you don’t get smaller than one, having Sam play multiple roles. We wanted to keep everything as controlled as possible, so shooting in studio, on a soundstage. Really, it was that shopping list that kind of defined what Moon was going to be.
What do you remember about coming up with the design of the moon base?
I’d been working for a long time with a friend of mine, a guy called Gavin Rothery (Moon conceptual designer), who is a director in his own right now. I think his first film Archive is coming out soon. But Gavin and myself had been scouring old science fiction movies together and trying to work out what it was that gave those old films their look. Gavin’s eye as a concept artist was incredibly important in coming up with the look of the film. And then working with Hideki Arichi, who was our art director, and Tony Noble, our production designer, we kind of worked out what we could afford to do with the limited resources we had. It was really about using a lot of old techniques that films from the late ‘70s and ‘80s did, of reusing and finding ways to use stuff that was kind of cheap for us to manufacture, rather than trying to come up with anything bespoke.
How difficult was it to shoot those scenes where you have one actor but ultimately there will be two characters on screen?
There was obviously a technical challenge to it, but we had an amazing VFX supervisor in Simon Stanley-Clamp there to kind of help us through it. But also, again, because of budget, it was about, How do we come up with clever ways to get through this and not use all of our resources for too many special effects shots the whole way through it? It was really about coming up with different techniques, some of which were much easier to accomplish technically than others, and then saving the real money shots for a couple of points throughout the film so that the audience never felt like they were being cheated.
I’d forgotten that Matt Berry (The IT Crowd, Toast of London, the TV version of What We Do in the Shadows) is in the film.
Matt Berry and Benedict Wong are a twosome [laughs], are basically a pair of executives. It was actually the very first thing that we shot when we made Moon.
How did you cast them?
Well, being based in London, it’s a fairly tight community over there. There is a notorious drinking spot called the Phoenix bar, and, back when I used to drink, Matt and Benny and myself used to bump into each other on a fairly regular basis at that place.
What do you remember about the release of Moon?
It was such a strange and wonderful experience for us. The way it was put together financially, it was destined to be a DVD release through Sony Entertainment Worldwide. Fortunately, the film was accepted into the Sundance Film Festival, where we screened the film, and the reaction was fantastic. That’s when Sony Classics got involved and basically said, “We think this film deserves a theatrical release.” If it hadn’t been for the guys at Sony Classics, the film would have probably just disappeared onto DVD.
Sci-fi fans really do love Moon. I’m guessing it’s a film people must talk to you about quite a lot.
Absolutely. And, on a personal level, the fact that it got the recognition it did has basically given me all the opportunities I’ve had after that. Jake Gyllenhaal asked for me to be director on Source Code specifically because he was such a fan of Moon. Everything kind of built on the back of Moon being really loved by a lot of people.
Watch the trailer for Moon, above.