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31 Things We Learned from Duncan Jones’ Moon Commentary

“This is the contractually-obliged Sam buttocks-shot.”
By  · Published on June 8th, 2016

Duncan Jones’ third feature film, Warcraft, opens this Friday, and it’s… unfortunate. It’s not nearly as bad as some people are saying, but it’s a movie destined to leave viewers unmoved and uninterested thanks to its script and time spent teasing a sequel. It’s his biggest budgeted film, one that saw him trying to please multiple parties, and while he deserves some of the criticism for its failures he’s already proven himself a more than capable film maker with his previous two films.

His sophomore movie, Source Code, is a solid sci-fi/action thriller, but it’s his debut that continues to resonate the strongest. Moon is an indie/sci-fi gem made for a fraction of Warcraft’s budget, and while it shows sometimes in the effects the film overcomes those limitations to tell a suspenseful and affecting tale.

Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for Duncan Jones’ Moon.

Moon (2009)

Commentator: Duncan Jones (writer/director), Stuart Fenegan (producer)

1. They used a lot of stock footage for the fake commercial that opens the movie. “As a low budget film there’s only certain things we can afford, and traveling around the world getting bits of footage wasn’t going to be one of them.”

2. The “Wake Me When It’s Quitting Time” t-shirt was Sam Rockwell’s idea. “It’s a nice little in-joke there obviously,” says Jones in reference to the film’s later reveal.

3. The GERTY that passes in front of the camera during the opening credits was one of the early prop models. It was being pushed on tracks by a crew member.

4. The communication tower was initially planned to be stacked directly on top of the set, “but because of structural reasons we had to off-set it.” Budget played a role there too.

5. They used black curtains for the lunar landscape background as opposed to a green-screen for fear of green spillage onto the miniatures.

6. Rockwell’s beard drew attention at Sundance 2008 while he was there promoting another feature. It was for Moon, but no one knew what that was at the time.

7. Jones added the vacuum hair-cutting scene as a nod to his memory of Flowbee infomercials airing during his childhood visits to the United States. “There must have been a lot of kids with bad haircuts,” adds Fenegan. Jones added the Clapper for the same reason. “They had a little song that I’m not allowed to sing.”

8. Many of the photographs on the console belong to Rockwell.

9. As a way of saving more money the end of production saw them selling off the monitors and screens to members of the crew.

10. The chair at the console is a make-up chair they freed from the studio’s make-up room. They had scoured around for prop chairs, but “the sci-fi chairs looked ridiculously sci-fi,” says Jones.

11. Jones acknowledges the Silent Running homage in the scene of Sam Bell (Rockwell) spending time caring for his plants. Each of the plants is labeled with a name based on a different sci-fi film director. The only one verbally mentioned in Ridley.

12. People have asked if the girl Bell sees in the module is actually his daughter. Yes, it is.

13. The fifteen seconds we hear of the Chesney Hawkes’ “The One and Only” was a source of “comedy” and minor contention as Jones wanted it but Fenegan preferred to save the money for visual effects. They made a deal that if the scene got laughs at screenings they would keep it. “Unfortunately, they laughed,” says Jones.

14. GERTY is a combination of physical props and CG. The former is used primarily for close-ups while the latter is seen in wide shots.

15. Fenegan is doubling Rockwell in the early crash scene. He’s very proud of it, but he’s also the only person he knew wouldn’t sue the production if he was hurt.

16. The moment that happens on most commentaries occurs here, voiced by Fenegan at the 23:00 minute mark.

17. Jones fell off a scaffold during production, but it only required a couple stitches. He did not sue the production.

18. The first two Sams in the film were originally called Sam 6 and Sam 7 in the script, but they were changed to 1 and 2 for clarity.

19. He loves the film’s poster, but if he had the chance to make a second one it would feature the black & white shot of the lunar surface with the harvester marks.

20. Kevin Spacey came aboard in post-production after seeing a rough cut and admiring Rockwell’s performance. During filming it was crew members who were reading GERTY’s lines opposite Rockwell.

21. Jones did a screening for NASA and loved the Q&A. He was asked why the base and harvesters were set on the far side of the moon. “I suggested that by doing that harvesting you might actually change the reflectivity of the lunar surface because you were obviously scraping up the surface soil, processing it, cooking it, and then kicking out the detris. Over time you’re going to start to actually have an effect on things, so that might affect the reflectivity of the moon, and who knows, it may affect wildlife back on Earth.”

22. Sam 2’s clothes were tightened up some to make him look stronger and healthier than Sam 1 whose clothes were intentionally looser.

23. The ping-pong game was accomplished via a split screen and a CG ball. Rockwell mimed both halves based on the audio of play. He also improvised jumping across the table.

24. They shot for 41 days, but 8 of those were specifically for miniatures. It was made for just under $5 million.

25. They’ve been asked about the tooth that Sam vomits into the toilet. “It’s supposed to be a moment for Sam 1 to recognize the fact that he’s definitely breaking down. He’s not got the flu, it’s not just feeling bad, something’s seriously wrong with him.”

26. The space beneath the floor that Rockwell shimmies into is meant to be a ladder down but is actually just an 18″ opening. “If Sam finds that acting doesn’t work out for him he can certainly get a job as a contortionist.”

27. He hasn’t decided as of the commentary recording, but Jones thinks he’s going to keep the small, red, handheld video screen.

28. The small canister that Sam 2 carries under his arm as he prepares for his escape is meant to contain Helium 3, the resource being mined on the moon, and valued at roughly $15 million. “The idea was that when Sam got back to Earth he may only have three years to go but he’ll be three years with a lot of cash.”

29. Jones cameos as the shadow of one of the rescuers on the open door.

30. They shot a brief sequence of Sam 2 back on Earth leaving a small wooden house on their daughter’s doorstep. They decided it wasn’t necessary.

31. Films mentioned as influences and inspirations include 2001, Sunshine, Silent Running, Outland, Dead Ringers, and Adaptation.

Best in Context-Free Commentary

“Here’s Sam’s infamous beard.”

“Obviously the song that’s playing right now is ‘Walking on Sunshine.’ You might wonder why we chose that.”

“Some people might ask what that arm is actually typing out, but I’m not going to tell you. You can probably work it out anyway. It’s the beauty of discs.”

“Don’t be so bloody pedantic, that’s what I’m saying to people.”

Final Thoughts

There are two commentary tracks on the UK Blu-ray, and while one focuses on the production design of the film Jones and Fenegan fill this one with both details and anecdotes. The one recurring theme here is the struggle they faced in making their film on such a restrictive budget, but the results prove them more than up to the task. It’s an interesting comparison to Warcraft’s reported $160 million budget seeing as Moon far exceeds it in both entertainment and emotion. Jones has already begun production on another small sci-fi project, Mute, and we’re already excited to see it.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.