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Moon Movies

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Mark Kermode | 17:00 UK time, Friday, 17 July 2009

By some uncanny coincidence, in the very week of the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's moonwalk, a new British movie simply called "Moon" hits our screens, and a widely admired work of intelligence and cinematic brio it most certainly is. In view of these auspicious events here is my take on how man's history of celluloid trips to the moon from Fritz Lang to Duncan Jones has always been about telling a much older, much deeper story.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Great vodcast and very eloquently put. Also, thanks for turning me on to The Ninth Configuration. It sits at the top of my LOVEFiLM rental list as we speak, and I look forward to seeing it. :)

  • Comment number 2.

    The only reason Bruce Dern is alone in space, is because he murders his crewmates, because they were carrying out their orders to destroy the plant life.

    Not only that but once he's alone he is very unsympathetic towards the three robots, especially when one loses its foot.

    The film does show him in a very very subtly way, that he regrets murdering his crewmate, and I had to explain to my young children, when they tried to justify his actions, that murder is wrong, really, really wrong, and that he regrets doing it, and he misses them.

    I know you love the ideas of loneliness in space in the film (hopefully not the murder part), but to me, he was just a tree hugging psychopath.

    P.s. I seem to remember somewhere, that the reason the astronaut has a paranoid episode, is because he is told by Regan in The Exorcist, that he was going to die up there.

  • Comment number 3.

    Just been to see Moon at Corner House in Manchester, a very fine film indeed.

  • Comment number 4.

    Dear Doc., I've just discovered that my local theatre, Tyneside Cinema, has a 'laptop screening' of Moon ( where you are supposed to work while watching the movie. Personally, I couldn't think of a better way of producing bad work while not enjoying the film.

    Given your hatred of people twittering on their phones while watching movies I thought I should alert you to this (hopefully one-off) phenomenon.

  • Comment number 5.

    Wow, never seen The Ninth Configuration but I'm buying it on eBay just from that clip.

    Cheers Dr Kermode

  • Comment number 6.

    You say that sci-fi movies are very rarely about the thing that they seem to be about. I'd like to amend that to "GOOD sci-fi movies are very rarely about the thing that they seem to be about." Alien is just a haunted house (in space), Sunshine is a psychological thriller (in space), Firefly, more than it's movie Serenity, is a western (in space). And, not in space, but Bladerunner is an essay on what it means to be human set in the future. On the other end of the spectrum are Battlefield Earth and Armageddon.

    In my opinion, the best sci-fi stories are ones that could be told without the genre of science-fiction appearing at all, using a present day earth location, but they just happen to be set in space, for any number of reasons, but not as the focus or reason of the story. Good sci-fi stories know this, bad sci-fi stories might also be aware of the fact, but choose to ignore it in favor of huge explosions, aliens, lasers, spaceships, high technology and larger-than-life heroes.

    Something tells me Moon would be just as comfortable set in Antarctica, or the bottom of the ocean... except, then, the title just wouldn't make much sense!

  • Comment number 7.

    In the moon sequence in 2001 when the astronauts walk down to the monolith there is some hand held camerawork and you can see the mighty Stanley Kubrick's face clearly reflected in an astronaut's helmet. My alltime favorite blooper!

  • Comment number 8.

    That clip from The Ninth Configuration is brilliant. I agree with you wholeheartedly that science fiction is rarely about itself, but rather a trapping for something else. That what makes Ridley Scott such a great sci-fi director - he knows how to create whole different worlds and then impregnate them with social features and structures taken from the kinds of films that we know and love. Hence, Alien is one of the great psychological (and sexual) horrors, and Blade Runner is perhaps the best film noir ever made.

    I'll be seeing Moon as soon as I can, would be interesting to have that and Iron Sky on a double bill :p Maybe an idea for one of yours and Mayo's live shows in the future...

    On a more flippant point, I've seen numerous things on the internet about people syncing up famous albums to films and finding them the film to mirror the music and vice versa. The most famous are The Wizard of Oz with The Dark Side Of The Moon, and the 1951 animated version of Alice in Wonderland with The Wall. I don't believe many of the coincidences that are claimed, but do you know of any other films where this has been attempted?

  • Comment number 9.

    Saw Moon last night. Loved it.

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi Mark,

    Thank you for the autograph.

    I saw Moon as you know, loved it a lot and also picked up a copy of The Strain.

    I was surprised at how few cinemas are showing this movie around the country with all the publicity and good reviews its been getting from magazines and such i expected a much wider release. Its a shame as a lot of people are going to miss out on a good film.

    Anyways, well done for completely destroying my opinion on 3D cinema and piracy - although I do think red-green is fine for a home viewing of a 3D film.

    Hope to meet you in person one day instead of through my Dad.

    - Ajay

  • Comment number 11.

    I would highly recommend "The Ninth Configuration", it's my favorite film.
    In my opinion, which is not worth much, it is better then "The Exorcist" which I know is a bold statement. Anyway the "Exorcist" DVD does not have a commentary track, by our own DR Kermode.

  • Comment number 12.

    Your hint towards heaven remeinded me of the german/french film "Es ist nicht leicht ein Gott zu sein" directed by Peter Fleischmann and I wondererd what you´d think of it, if you had seen it at all.

    If not, I suggesst you see it as soon as and let the public know your verdict.

    Looking forward...


  • Comment number 13.

    An excellent blog. I often find myself defending sci-fi, and my statement is always the same: science fiction can go where no other genre can go, especially in terms of philodophic thought. This is because it enables the story to place characters in extreme situations. How else can a film maker explore what makes us human unless by presenting us with a non-human, or a cyborg? In what genre can man's place in the universe be contemplated as sucessfully as in science fiction, which can place man in ultimate isolation in the cosmos? How can our faith in reality be questioned other than in a cyberpunk film, which will offer an alternate form of existence?Only science fiction can do these things, and this is why,it seems to me, that so many of those films contain so many rich narratives, and resonate beyond what they, at first glance, seem to be about..

  • Comment number 14.

    Conversely, most movies dealing with what man finds BELOW the Earth - e.g. Journey to the Centre of the Earth, The Core - tend to have nothing interesting to say, having only the allure for Hollywood money-making producers rather than the themes of philosophy and introversion that you mention.

  • Comment number 15.

    It's nice to see Moon compared with Solaris and 2001 - two of my favourite films. It seems to be well worth a watch...

    Just oe note from your video, regarding 2001:

    "...mankind uncovers an intergalactic alarm system buried ... by our alien forefathers."

    Is this actually the case? It is my opinion that the discovery on the moon was in fact faked.

  • Comment number 16.

    Dear Dr. K,
    Great podcast, going to see Moon as soon as I can. Just one point though about 2001. On one of your podcasts with Simon Mayo, you described Silent Running as "the film that 2001 could have been if it had been made by someone who understood people".

    I realise I might be a bit out of my depth here, what with you being the film critic and me just being a die-hard Kubrick fan - but isn't the whole point of 2001 to show that human beings, or at least the purpose of human beings, is impossible to fathom? Regardless of what happens in Arthur C. Clarke's original story, which you talked about on Friday, Kubrick's film is a great testament not so much to the loneliness of space (Silent Running, Moon etc.) but to the complex insignificance of humans in it.

    The reason why so many people see the ending of 2001 as a religious experience is because Kubrick is showing us just how expansive and vast the universe is, and how its many bizarre and inexplicable features show us just how small we are. In a way, 2001 is a kind of pre-emptive antidote to later sci-fi films about men colonising the universe and imposing law and order. Just as he dealt with the Native American legacy in The Shining, Kubrick in 2001 is holding up a mirror to our desire for progress and adventure and reminding us of how ridiculous it all is in the end.

    P.S. What do you think of Logan's Run?

  • Comment number 17.

    Ninth Configuration looks deadly, gonna rent it today to mark the anniversary

  • Comment number 18.

    While checking the performance times on the Odeon site for Moon, I had a glance at the review:

    "If you liked Transformers and Star Trek, youll love Moon. "


    PS: "Solaris" is a beautiful film, but "Stalker" is even better.

  • Comment number 19.

    Dear Doc,
    you forgot mentioning UFO, a brilliant 1970's British science fiction television series starring Commander Straker and the glamourous moon girls with purple hair...

    All good genre films are just a backdrop for other stuff. Crime stories describe the tension between good and evil (as fantasy films do), westerns tell about the struggle for survival in hostile environment and how different people cope in different ways, science fiction films are about spiritual and psychological themes because of the isolation space travel provides. They often deal also with problems of identity (as, for example, in all movies which are based on Philip K. Dick books).
    I hope Moon will come soon to my country, Italy, I'm looking forward to seeing it.

  • Comment number 20.

    Earth based sci-Fi movies, are also one of the best documents of a political era and climate.

    For example if you want to understand what McCarthyism was in 50s America, and how hysterical the political fear of the 'red threat' was, you could do little better than watching 'Invaders From Mars (1953)' or Don Siegel's original 1955 'Invasion of The Bodysnatchers'.

    With these films it is fascinating that the terror they portray, isn't from the aliens, or the UFOs, or the fact they had ray guns that can melt a's from the fact they're in YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD, and YOU'RE NEXT!'

  • Comment number 21.

    I love the idea that, to all intents and purposes, we are to believe Mark sits in silence and contemplates things, hand on chin, in bauhaus-style settings until his blog camera is turned on.

    Thanks for this one though, love all this stuff, seen much of it, but many of the references I've just recently got a hold of, including Silent Running and The Ninth Configuration. Watching Solaris as I speak.

    I very much agree about the Sci-Fi genre being a front for another subject. It is often only in an out of this world setting, that we can artistically address very worldy questions in a direct manner.

  • Comment number 22.

    Another very quick point about production; having recently gone back through a lot of this material, and having a real look at some of the contemporaries of the likes of Kubrick and Scott, it makes the effect of the likes of Blade Runner, Alien and 2001 stand out so much. The pretenders often struggled to get a lot of the technicalities of these space effects just so.

  • Comment number 23.

    Thank you very much for your review. Not only am I just as excited about 'Moon' as before, but I've just seen 'Capricorn One' with 'The Ninth Configuration' next to come.

  • Comment number 24.

    I love sci-fi movies, and as has been stated before on this esteemed blog the science fiction bit is but a tool, a way to tell old stories in a new and interesting way.

    Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl turns out to be a pan dimensional brain eating alien from the outer reaches of the trefong system, girl eats half the crew, boy suddenly notices the quite stunningly beautiful girl he's been running around the ship with for the last 2 hours trying to avoid being eaten, boy blows up the ship but feels quite sad about it with a whistful look in his eye (ahh the old ones are the best!)

    As with any tool it is how you use it which is important, a short example if i may,

    director A gets a present from his wife, he opens the present and finds a new pen knife, he loves it, its the one with the 3 different blades and a cork screw , pair of scissors and even a self leveling laser pointer thing he may even say Phwoar a bit...

    director B gets a present from his wife, he opens it and finds a new pen knife, he loves it and starts using it to carve a love spoon for his wife... (sentimental i know but stick with me)

    give both these directors the same tool and from one you get a tragic tale of a woman who's loving marriage breaks down because her husband spends all his time obsessing about carving love spoons with an up lifting redemption at the end when the cheap knife she bought of the internet snaps in half and they rediscover there love, or you get a 3 hour film about a pen knife...

    i know which one i would rather watch

  • Comment number 25.

    Gotta love Blatty's dialogue. Just read The Ninth Configuration screenplay again recently. "Nuttier than a truckload of pralines"

  • Comment number 26.

    I think people have rushed a bit prematurely to praise "Moon", overlooking the fact that the plot's pretty weak and the model sfx work made it look like an episode of "Space 1999".

  • Comment number 27.

    I agree with you, Shuzenbaags. I thought the film was plot-lite. Mark says it's a film of ideas. Well there's one big idea which once it is revealed, there is not a lot left. Perhaps some exploration of the character emotions but not a lot else. Therefore, if the "secret" is known beforehand there is not much point in going to see the film. In contrast, if you knew the secret of "The Crying Game" before seeing the film, it is only an element of the film and would not ruin the whole story. The difference is that when the secret is revealed in "The Crying Game" it has a big impact or shock factor (not quite enough to rush to the toilet to vomit, though), whereas in "Moon" when the secret becomes apparent, it's more of an "Oh, Yeah" moment than an emetic.

    **** SPOILER **** (NO, Not the big one!)

    What was with that final sequence where a disembodied voice of a appears to be coming from the pictured earth? I realize he didnt want to leave the reference point of the Moon where we have been for the whole movie but i think it would have been better to leave it out or actually show the scene from the earth perspective.

    It reminded me of that clip of the Clangers witnessing a general election on earth from the moon. Duncan Jones may not be old enough to have seen the original episode but the clip has been shown many times. The effect was a comic one and probably not intended (A bit like when Nic Cage's disembodied voice comes out of the Wicker Man at the end of the disastrous re-make although I think that might have been at least partly intentionally funny).

    **** END OF SPOILER *******

  • Comment number 28.

    Can I also add that the film lacks internal logic and / or is inconsistent?
    1) The apparition that Sam sees causing him to burn his hand / crash the lunar vehicle - who was it meant to be? I thought that it was his daughter (she seemed to bear a striking resemblance). If it was, how would he know what she looked like since this discovery is not made until the last quarter of the film once Sam has moved beyond the jamming transmitters. If not, who and why is she there?
    2) Are we to assume that the clones have a 3 year life cycle? If so, then surely the one we saw stored in the "Secret Room", would be showing the same signs of decay? If not, why was the "crash" Sam falling apart?
    3) When the company do show up, one of them is armed. I assume that was to shoot the surviving Sam in the crashed cab? Why? His lifespan was nearly up?
    4) The storage chamber bit only worked if you haven't seen "The Prestige" which had a similar (and far more effective)moment. What was the point of "storing" them anyway?
    5) The message "glitch" from the wife. Where was that meant to lead?
    6) The Spacey Robot. Was it controlled from Earth/taking orders (implied in the overheard conversation) or independent. If it was aware of the duplicity of the management surely its duty was to uphold the Company policy and not effectively switch sides? If there was meant to be some sort of comment about "humanising" machines, then it, again, fell short. Where was the conflict?
    7) Are we to assume that clones are only used on the moon? Surely such a development would make clones a regular feature on Earth?
    I wanted to like this film, I really did, but these plot holes and (I agree) poor ending made it impossible. I ended up feeling as though I'd been looking for profundity in a product where there was none.

  • Comment number 29.

    Just wanted to add myself to the list of people who went out and bought Ninth Configuration on Dr K's advice. Not being an Exorcist fan I wasn't expecting much, but really loved it. Reminded me, weirdly, of Mike Nichols' Catch-22 adaptation.

  • Comment number 30.

    An interesting review by Mark Kermode. I saw Moon with a friend who recommended it to me. I am not that much of a fan of sci-fi films, but I loved Moon, utterly compelling it was, wonderful performances by Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey.

    My friend and I went to see a special screening of Moon as a double-bill, alongside the film Outland and it was being hosted by none other than Zowie Bowie (a.k.a Duncan Jones), the director of Moon. He was very charming and Outland was clearly a source of inspiration for Moon.

    I also hope that Moon gets shown in more cinemas, as it regrettably seems to have a limited release.

  • Comment number 31.

    I still need to check out Moon. Must put it top of my list. I think Edinburgh film festival honoured it with a prize last year. Solaris I love, i can never decide between it and Stalker, both equally confusing. I did a little comparison of both versions of Solaris.


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