It was revealed this week that Duncan Jones‘ Mute is finally, officially coming together. Alexander Skarsgard and Paul Rudd joined the cast and everything. This sci-fi noir, which Jones has been talking up for over five years now, is actually going to be a movie that we can watch and not just a cool idea. And while Mute will be a standalone movie, it will be the spiritual successor to Moon, Jones’ 2009 breakout film that established him as a talent to watch. Although they have unconnected stories, both films take place in the same futuristic universe.
And Moon is great. Really great. “One of the best science fiction movies of the past decade” great. The story of the sole employee on a lunar mining colony finding something that rattles him to his core, it’s the kind of movie that reinvigorates your interest in this genre and gets you excited all over again. So, in honor of Mute becoming a thing, let’s take a moment to remember why genre fans should have faith in Duncan Jones.
A Showcase For Sam Rockwell
Sam Rockwell is one of the great gifts cinema has bestowed upon us. Whether he’s playing lovable losers or scheming evildoers or anything in-between, he’s never hit a false note and has never delivered a bad performance. He has the magnetism of a movie star inside the body of a character actor. Moon is the one of the few films in existence that casts him in the lead role and it utilizes him perfectly. With the exception of a few people glimpsed on computers, he is the only human being on screen throughout the film’s entire running time. Duncan Jones, in all his wisdom, realized that a one-actor movie needs a special kind of actor and he gave Rockwell a career-defining role in Sam Bell. No film has ever suffered from too much Sam Rockwell and Moon is all Sam Rockwell, all the time.
The Best Movie Robot…Ever?
The moment we meet GERTY, the lunar colony robot voiced by Kevin Spacey, we immediately start counting down the minutes until he goes crazy and starts trying to kill Sam Rockwell. That’s what all science fiction movies do. It’s what we have been trained to expect. Moonmakes the brilliant choice to just let GERTY be a helpful robot who goes about it daily duties, which include assisting our hero whenever he needs it and being a reliable, well-maintained, genuinely useful thing to have around. The fact that GERTY doesn’t go crazy, and that it actually becomes a compelling, likable character, is nothing short of a miracle. Moon isn’t always positive about the future, but it sure as hell believes in the power of robots.
Smart, Economic Filmmaking
Moon was made for a reported $5 million and every penny of that budget is on the screen. The bulk of the movie takes place in a series of room and corridors (hence the low budget actually working out), but the film never feels small or cheap and reduced in any way. This is the kind of small genre film that we need — a smart filmmaker writes a screenplay that fits his very specific budget and limitations and makes every single scene perfect. That’s easier said than done, but every beat in Moon serves the characters and propels the story. You only stop to even think about budget and scope on a repeat viewing, when you’re familiar enough with the movie to start wondering “Wait, this thing is much smaller than it looks!” This is why the thought of Jones working on a movie as big as Warcraft is so exciting. If this is what he did with a small budget, what can he accomplish with a couple hundred million?
A Score to Die For
Clint Mansell’s score for Moon is perfect. Moody and hypnotic and just creepy enough, it may be the best science fiction movie score of the past decade. I’ll just let the must itself do the heavy-lifting here:
One of the reasons the increased canvas of Mute is so exciting is that we’ve already seen how much world-building Jones can squeeze out of a single location. Moon may never leave, well, the moon, but the film still paints a picture of what the world is like beyond Earth’s natural satellite. We see glimpses of it in Sam Bell’s conversations with those back on the planet, but we also see it in how Sam feels about his job and how he interacts with others. It’s a performance so lived-in and a character so vividly sketched that we understand exactly where he’s coming from, where he’s going, and what he wants. There’s a rich, complex world just outside of the frame and you can always feel it. The mere suggestion of seeing more of this world is a compelling argument for why Mute needs to be on your radar…and why you should watch Moon.