Movies · Reviews

‘Making Moon’ is a Tactile Treat to Satisfy the Sci-Fi Obsessive

The new behind-the-scenes coffee table book exposes the philosophy behind Duncan Jones’ masterful debut feature.
Moon Poster
Sony Pictures Classic
By  · Published on October 29th, 2019

Why isn’t there any merchandise for Moon? The question is asked by an exasperated GERTY in the foreword of the new behind-the-scenes coffee table book Making Moon. The playful exchange between writer/director Duncan JonesĀ and the AI character from his film is a cutesy way of welcoming readers on a nostalgic trip exploring the thought and craft that went into the British sci-fi cult classic. Depending on your tolerance for quirk, you’ll either find the imaginative banter endearing or repulsively saccharine. But dangit, you’re here to appreciate and celebrate the DIY spirit that went into birthing the flick, and you’re probably hung up on the same question as GERTY. Why isn’t there any merchandise for Moon!?!

We want the McFarlane Toys action figures. We want the Sideshow Collectibles statues. We want the Funko Pops. If Marvel’s Man-Thing can find its way into molded plastic, then Sam Rockwell and his co-star Sam Rockwell and his co-star Sam Rockwell sure as hell can. Is that a spoiler? Dude, the movie is a decade old, and I stole the joke from Duncan and GERTY’s conversation. Not my fault. The point being, Moon is the kind of film that, once seen, you can’t shut up about, and you expect the world to tune into the same astonished wavelength.

Simon Ward, the author of Making Moon, is right there with you. He launches his exploration of the film’s production by marveling at its many phases. Moon is a bold debut that satisfies as much as a drama as it does its science-fiction trappings. On top of its narrative success, the film also strikes as a technical wonderment. How did they do that on a $5 million budget? Reading Ward’s first words on the matter signifies a man in love. “Befitting such a tight, independently spirited project,” he writes, “the people who brought it to life were a close-knit group, many of whom shared history before Moon had even been dreamt of.” Ward, like us, aches to be in the room with the creators, and he does his damndest to achieve such a miracle.

We first meet Jones at the finish line of his long, winding path to becoming a filmmaker. He bumped around movie sets all his life, and after doing some time within Jim Henson‘s Creature Shop and Tony Scott‘s production company, he knocked around a few music videos and finally enrolled in the London Film School. Along the way, he assembled his squad of visual effects technicians, art directors, concept artists, and producers. They hashed out a short film called Whistle and a batch of sci-fi themed commercials. Ward shows off stills from all the projects, and glimmers of Moon are present.

Now, we’re ready for the big show, but before we can jump into Moon, Ward sidetracks into the Mute that never was. Jones’ first feature script would eventually be realized on Netflix in 2018, but before Justin Theroux nabbed the role of Duck, Sam Rockwell was approached for the part. Rockwell dug the script, but he was looking to free himself from villain gigs. The actor tried to convince Jones he was the lead of the piece, but the director just couldn’t see it that way. On a flight back to England, Jones considered a new possibility and a new project with Rockwell as his star. Ward includes the brief note written by Jones to Rockwell, proclaiming his admiration for the actor and his need to write a film around his special brand of personality. Moon, in part, sprung from Jones’ infatuation with Rockwell.

And that’s all covered in the first 20 pages of the book. From there, we wade into the complications of formulating a script out of Jones’ treatments. Rockwell was his man, but the project stemmed from the overwhelming sense of loneliness he experienced after a long-distance relationship shattered. Moon was a personal story, but the screenplay had to be fashioned quickly while Jones was preoccupied with other paying assignments. Nathan Parker was brought on board to formulate Jones’ thoughts into a living script, and there was a moment of psychological pain when the director had to give his baby to the writer.

Making Moon gets into the trauma of creation, hearing all sides and processing all evidence. There is a sense of the strong bond amongst the parties involved, and an understanding that collaboration would collapse without a shared vision. As Parker says early on, a version of this movie exists that involves clone on clone on clone violence, a free-for-all action picture only interested in cheap theatrics rather than observing and empathizing with the psychological torment of its players. If one member of the team had altered from the theme of Moon then everything would have unraveled.

At the time of the shoot, model makers were few and far between. The art form was dwindling, and if you wanted an effective build, it required the touch of a master. Enter: Bill Pearson, the in-camera miniature craftsman responsible for the wizardry seen in Alien, Flash Gordon, Outland, and Gravity. He helped Jones build one gargantuan lunar playground and populated its surface with equally monstrous harvester models. Time seems to slow when you’re flipping through these specific pages of Making Moon. The subjects are big kids in a sandbox, and so is the reader.

Ward keeps the philosophy of imagination at the forefront of every chapter of Making Moon, and while that is appreciated, as a Moon obsessive here to get into the nitty-gritty of production, the greatest pleasures I took from the book were the sections showcasing the sets, models, and visual effects. I’m with GERTY. I want the toys. Like the horrendous possibilities of a clone army assault movie, there is a version of this flick that relied heavily on digital creations rather than the practical textures of miniatures. That movie may have been perfectly fine, but its behind-the-scenes coffee table book would be a typical drab collection of VFX art. Making Moon is not that.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)