First Men in the Moon – 50th anniversary review

Celebrating the Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction Films of 1964, Cinefantastique looks back at Ray Harryhausen’s classic adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel.

Fifty years ago, special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen took movie-goers on a memorable trip to the moon – a half decade before Neil Armstrong actually reached the lunar surface. Can the cinematic adventure survive not only the test of time but also the incursion of scientific reality, which has debunked the popular notion of life on the moon as a quaint fantasy? The answer is yes: Despite its flaws, FIRST MEN IN THE MOON remains a charming entertainment that stirs our Sense of Wonder with its fantastic imagery, lifting us out of mundane reality and transporting us into an alternative world of the imagination.
To a large extent, FIRST MEN IN THE MOON is an archetypal Ray Harryhausen production, which is to say that it initially confounds our expectations only to ultimately confirm them. Critical consensus has taught us to expect an obligatory live-action story that serves only as a showcase for Harryhausen’s marvelous special effects work. However, FIRST MEN IN THE MOON launches with a promising start, raising hopes for a truly good movie, not merely a succession of set-pieces. Although those hopes remain unsatisfied when the curtain falls, the film remains engaging and entertaining, if slightly frustrating.


First Men in the Moon UN landing
The U.N. Moon Mission

Utilizing a flashback structure, FIRST MEN IN THE MOON begins with a contemporary prologue depicting a United Nations landing on the moon. The lunar explorers discover a British flag, next to some kind of legal document with a hand-written note on the back, dated 1899, claiming the moon in the name of the Queen of England.
Back on Earth, a team of investigators follow a name on the document to track down Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd), an old man in a nursing home, known as a crank for his dire warnings about the moon. Initially panicked about the recent landing, Bedford calms down and relates his story, which becomes the body of the film…
In 1899, after a series of failed business ventures, Bedford is living in a cottage in a the country, where he hopes to write a successful play. His fiance, Kate Callender (Martha Hyer), a Boston actress, comes to live with him, in anticipation of getting married. Bedford continually demurs, citing financial concerns; what sounds like an excuse has an element of truth, because Bedford is indeed hiding from creditors.
Financial rescue comes in the form of Joseph Cavor (Lionell Jeffries), a research scientist who offers to buy Bedford’s cottage, for fear that his experiments might damage the property. Bedford agrees, on the condition that he be allowed to reinvest the money into Cavor’s experiments into an anti-gravity substance dubbed “Cavorite.” There is only one problem: though he claims to have inherited the cottage from an aunt, Bedford is actually renting it. He circumvents this obstacle by “transferring” the title to Kate, who sells it in her name, unaware of the illegality of the transaction.
With one or two mishaps, Cavor completes his experiments; at one point, an explosion of Cavorite literally lifts the roof off his house. While Bedford waxes over the commercial potential of anti-gravity boots, Cavor dreams of flying to the moon – an idea Bedford dismisses until Cavor tells him the lunar surface is rich in minerals such as gold (“Better than boots, isn’t it?”).
Kate objects to the planned excursion, which she considers a pointless risk, and threatens to return to Boston. However, when she is served with papers for the illegal sale of the cottage, she runs to confront Bedford, who is about to take off with Cavor in an iron sphere that will serve as their space ship. (The film gets off one of its few really good jokes here: Anticipating the take-off, Cavor warns, “There might be a violent shock coming” – and we cut to Kate outside, knocking on the sphere.) Rather than risk her being killed in the blast, Bedford drags her inside.
After a mishap or two, the sphere lands on the moon. Bedford and Cavor explore the terrain and plant the flag that we saw found in the prologue. They also crash through an artificial, concave surface, leading to an underground area with breathable atmosphere. They encounter pygmy-sized insectoid aliens, whom Cavor dubs “Selenites” without much explanation. Surrounded, Bedford fights several them off, possibly killing some, while Cavor laments the “taste of human violence” that Bedford has given to this alien civilization.
First Men in the Moon Mooncalf
The "Mooncalf" - a giant caterpillar

Back at the landing area, Bedford and Cavor see that the sphere has been dragged away. Returning underground, they encounter giant caterpillars, which Cavor takes to be “moon calves” – that is, the lunar equivalent of cows, bred for food. Chased by one of the monsters, they get separated. Cavor is captured and, along with Kate, is taken to meet some taller, apparently more advanced Selenites, who manage to translate English well enough to ask him about Cavorite.
Bedford rescues Kate, but Cavor wants to continue communicating with the Selenites. While Bedford and Kate fix the sphere (which has been partially disassembled by the aliens), Cavor stands before the Grand Lunar (never so named on screen), who questions him about human society. Cavor explains that, unlike the Selenites, humanity is divided into different countries, who sometimes make war. When the Grand Lunar expresses concern that other men may follow Cavor and make war on the Moon, Cavor points out that only he knows the secret of Cavorite. The Grand Lunar proclaims that Cavor must remain with his secret.
Unable to fix the sphere without Cavor’s help, Bedford returns to rescue the scientist, blasting away at the Selenites with an elephant gun. Though deploring Bedford’s violence, Cavor repairs the sphere. Bedford and Kate may escape. Cavor chooses to remain behind,  to prevent other humans from discovering the secret of Cavorite…
Back in the present day, Bedford and the investigative team interviewing him watch the moon landing on live television. As the astronauts descend beneath the surface, they pass areas that Bedford recognizes, but there are no living beings; in fact, the entire civilization has been wiped out as if by some disease. While the others marvel at this unexpected turn of events, Bedford gazes at the moon through a small telescope pointing out his window. Knowing now that the danger he feared will not materialize, he smiles to himself and mutters,  “Cavor had such a terrible cold.”


The aged Bedford smirks over the extinction of the Selenites.
The aged Bedford smirks over the extinction of the Selenites.

What can you say about a film that treats the extinction of an entire civilization as a bad joke? Ironically, the best thing you can say is that ending does not work – and it’s to the film’s credit that it does not. Bedford’s closing comment is laughable only if one shares his simplistic view that Selenites were inherently evil – a threat to humanity that need to be extinguished; however, the action in FIRST MEN IN THE MOON does not support this reading, and it’s a bit of a wonder that the filmmakers thought they could get a laugh with his smirking bon mot. (Additionally, there is the matter of Cavor’s almost symptom-free illness; his “terrible cold” manifests only as a few coughs dubbed onto the soundtrack near the end.)
In fact, the faux-funny conclusion of FIRST MEN IN THE MOON is symptomatic of the film’s schizophrenic nature, which suggests two scripts spliced together: the first half is comedy romance; the second half is serious science fiction. Presumably, the humor was provided by Jan Read (who had co-scripted Harryhausen’s JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS the year before), and the serious aspects were provided by science fiction specialist  Nigel Kneale (who created such thoughtful scripts as THE QUATERMAS EXPERIMENT). However the contributions break down, the two sensibilities wrestle for supremacy, and if in the end, the serious aspect loses out, at least it leaves an impression strong enough to endear the film to viewers willing to overlook a few lapses.
After a clever opening credits sequence (a graphic of a crescent moon is “eclipsed” by ripples as if we are seeing a reflection in a pool of water), FIRST MEN IN THE MOON begins strong with its depiction of a contemporary lunar landing. The international flavor of the crew, including Americans and Russians, is a nice, progressive touch for a film shot during the Cold War, and the sequence not only provides a spectacular opening; it also updates the Wells novel for contemporary audiences, who already knew more or less what to expect on the moon (a lifeless, arid surface with no atmosphere, unlike the blooming plant life depicted in the book). Thus the screenplay provides the scientifically accurate surface while concealing Wells’ marvels below ground, where they seem a bit more credible.
When the action switches to Earth for a few scenes explaining how the U.N. finds Bedford, the script offers what at first seems like a surfeit of comedy relief, as if over-compensating for  the obligatory nature of the connect-the-dots narrative. However, once Bedford’s tale takes us back to 1899, we see that the comedy is not merely “relief”; it is in fact the focus. We get comical sound effects for the boiling Cavorite. We learn that working class people are shiftless and unreliable. Laurie Johnson’s otherwise fine score underlines allegedly humorous moments, inadvertently reminding us how un-funny they are. Kate continually says, “We could get married,” to which Bedford replies, “We could, but…”
Martha Hyer as Kate, Edward Judd as Arnold
Martha Hyer as Kate, Edward Judd as Arnold

Essentially, we are watching a Victorian-era Rom-Com, but the situation is not very amusing for two reasons: First, Arnold Bedford is a bit of a scoundrel; second, he never really does anything to deserve Kate’s forgiveness, but she forgives him anyway (a relationship arc that would be more or less recreated in Harryhausen’s 1969 effort VALLEY OF GWANGI).
Actor Edward Judd almost sells Bedford to us as a lovable rogue. Though the script gives us little reason to admire him, Judd shows us the man’s appealing charm, and to some extent gets us forgive Bedford’s deceptions about his embarrassing financial matters. However, the character crosses the line when he talks Kate into “selling” the cottage in her own name – a ruse that puts her in legal jeopardy.
All of this would be acceptable if the script were setting up Bedford as a flawed character who becomes a better man after Kate calls him on his bullshit; unfortunately, the only time Kate shows a little willpower is when she threatens to return to Boston if Bedford refuses to back out of his lunar voyage. Why this should be the breaking point is unclear (it’s almost as if Bedford is choosing Cavor over her), but she is given a real reason to be angry when she receives the legal summons. Nevertheless, the most she says during the weeks-long trip to the Moon is that she “shouldn’t” forgive Bedford (her tone suggests she does).  That’s the last time the topic is even mentioned; the romantic-comedy story line is forgotten once Cavor’s sphere lands, at which point the science fiction half of the film takes over.
This is when FIRST MEN IN THE MOON becomes truly interesting. At first, the film seems to conform to the traditions of cinematic science fiction at the time, which tended to portray aliens as hostile and dangerous, justifying any  “defensove” taken by the humans, not matter how overtly hostile. And indeed, if you saw FIRST MEN IN THE MOON when you were five years old, Bedford’s violent reaction to the Selenites seems justified.
However, one suspects that Nigel Kneale saw things differently. Unlike THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951), which depicted the scientist’s attempts to communicate as hopelessly naive, FIRST MEN IN THE MOON gives Cavor a fair hearing; his despair over Bedford’s actions is palpable and, to some extent, justified. Presumably, Nigel Kneale’s first draft was thematically sympathetic to Cavor, and Jan Read was brought in to conform the script to the tenor of the times, presenting the questionable Bedford as the macho hero battling the evil aliens.
Stop-Motion Selenites

Yes, the Selenites want to prevent Cavor from returning home, but only to protect themselves from other humans, who might use Cavorite to invade the Moon. One can hardly blame them after hearing Cavor himself describe the human propensity for war, which is horrible and yet considered heroic and noble, even glorious. Unable to resolve the contradiction, Cavor is reduced to almost pleading:  “We’re not perfect,” he admits, but insists, “There are men of peace.” To which the Grand Lunar replies, “My concern is men of violence,” and Cavor knows that concern is justified.1
When Bedford interrupts Cavor’s audience with the Grand Lunar, the scene is staged like a traditional rescue, and perhaps we are expected to cheer as Bedford fires his elephant gun, yelling at Cavor that his “audience” with the Grand Lunar is actually a trial. On the other hand, Bedford’s actions seem to confirm the Selenites’ view of humans as dangerously violent,2 and a moment later we are given further reason to doubt Bedford’s character: when Cavor says he did not want to be rescued, Bedford responds, “Don’t flatter yourself. I didn’t risk my neck for you. I need you to repair the sphere.”
Pushing the hapless scientist around and even threatening him, Bedford reveals himself once and for all to be a total ass, loosing any sympathy he may have earned, and when Cavor voluntarily decides to stay behind, it is a truly grand gesture. The young handsome Bedford may conform to the stereotype of a movie hero, but it is Cavor who ultimately behaves heroically, sacrificing his return home both to preserve his secret and also to undo some of the damage Bedford has done.
Edward Judd and Lionel Jeffries on the Moon.
Edward Judd and Lionel Jeffries on the Moon.

Much of the credit for this goes to actor Lionel Jeffries, whose sincere performance helps Kneale’s intent shine through. Jeffries perfectly embodies Cavor, first as an absent-minded eccentric in the comical half of the film, then as a dedicated man of science in the latter. His frustration over defending the human race’s less noble characteristics is heartfelt, and his initial reaction to the Selenites’ attempt to translate English is splendid (or “imperial” as the character would say – and let’s not forget the irony of the word in the context of a story about aliens wary of Earth’s intentions).
Jeffries wins us over to such an extent that we cannot laugh at Bedford casual disregard for the extinction of the Selenites, which registers as a tragedy instead of a relief. In this context, one should note that the international nature of the contemporary lunar expedition belies the Grand Lunar’s fear of Earth: humanity has  outgrown the war-mongering divisiveness, and one suspects that, had the Selenites survived, the meeting may have gone off peacefully.
The supporting cast is strong, filled with reliable British character actors such as Miles Maleson and Michael Ripper, not to mention a young un-credited Peter Finch (who would eventually win a posthumous Oscar for his role in NETWORK). Martha Hyer deserves some credit for playing the rather thankless leading lady role: though Kate is too gullible and forgiving, Hyer almost makes something of the character. In particular, she pulls off scenes that have defeated many an actor in a Ray Harryhausen film: while staring silently at the off-screen special effects, she actually seems to be looking at something, not just waiting for her cue; while Jeffries is given all the dialogue expounding on the wonders being viewed, Hyer seems on the verge of speaking, as if itching but unable to articulate her reactions.
Still, it is Jeffries show, as far as the live-action actors go. Our final image of Cavor shows him crouching before two Selenites as the sphere takes off in the background, leaving him behind on the Moon. Somehow, the character deserves more.


Cavor and Kate communicate with the Selenites
Cavor and Kate communicate with the Selenites

Like the majority of Ray Harryhausen’s special effects epics, FIRST MEN IN THE MOON was produced by Charles H. Schneer for Columbia Pictures,. The duo had previously collaborated on an adaptation of a Victorian-era science fiction novel, Jules Verne’s THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961), and Harryhausen had long wanted to film Wells’ War of the Worlds, even going so far as to shoot test footage of the tentacled Martians (though the film ended up made by Paramount instead). Like THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, FIRST MEN IN THE MOON benefits from the source material, which provides an imaginative, fanciful narrative to which Harryhausen can apply his visual effects magic, though in this case the screenplay is a bit more obviously compromised.
Though shot on a modest budget, FIRST MEN IN THE MOON looks grand in scale. As producer, Schneer kept costs down by putting most of the budget below the line, spending money on the actual production rather than on big-name stars. Wilkie Cooper’s Panavision cinematography (in “Lunacolor”) is beautiful, despite an occasional lapse (e.g., a slightly jittery tilt-down in Bedford’s nursing home). Sets and locations (including some beautiful caverns) effective convey the subterranean lunar landscape with a vividness absent from today’s digitally created backgrounds.
Nathan Juran, who earned a reputation as one of the worst directors ever thanks to his involvement with the bad-movie classic ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT WOMAN (helmed under the pseudonym Nathan Hertz), proves here that he was actually a competent craftsman, who knew how to stage and shoot a scene with narrative efficiency, if not with a recognizably personal style. Though he resorts to the occasional cliche (the hand that reaches on screen to startle our hero is revealed to belong to a friend)3, Juran also manages a few suspenseful moments (rare in Harryhausen films, which were always wary of scaring off younger viewers), including a nice bit of foreshadowing when we – but not the oblivious characters – first glimpse the lunar inhabitants only as shadows on a cave wall. The script’s comedy may not be particularly funny, but thanks to Juran, FIRST MEN IN THE MOON seldom drags, and once the characters reaches the orbiting orb, the film becomes a non-stop tour of wondrous sights.
Martha Hyer seems to be thinking, "Some day, Sandra Bullock will get an Oscar nomination for this sh-t."
Martha Hyer thinks, "Some day, Sandra Bullock will get an Oscar nomination for this anti-gravity sh-t."

Those sights are enhanced by Laurie Johson’s music, which is suitably grand when not obligated to underscore the comic high jinks (the orchestra sounds slightly drunk during the zero gravity scenes). Early on, Johnson uses the recurring motif of a British anthem to tie together the discovery of the British flag on the moon with the presentation of that discovery to Bedford. Later, he offers a stately march as Cavor ascends the stares of the spectacular set for his audience with the Grand Lunar, dotted with strange angular crystals that seem otherworldly but believable.
The cumulative effect is quite impressive, eclipsing the somewhat mundane aspects of the film’s first half. But of course the star of the show remains Harryhausen himself…


FIRST MEN IN THE MOON Bedford and MoonCalf
The Mooncalf corners Bedford.

Ray Harryhausen is relatively unique in the annals of cinema – a special effects artist who not only provided technical excellence but also contributed to the development of his films, sometimes conceiving sequences that would showcase his visual effects process, which he dubbed Dynamation (short for “Dynamic Animation” or “Dimensional Animation,” to distinguish the work from hand-drawn cartoon animation). In the days before computer-generated imagery, Harryhausen’s specialty was stop-motion, in which miniature creatures, built from foam rubber laid over metal armatures, were manipulated by hand and photographed one frame at a time; the resulting sequence, when projected at regular speed, gave the illusion of motion. Though time-consuming compared to CGI, stop-motion provided a hand-made charm, allowing Harryhausen to work as an artist and almost an actor, imbuing his characters with amazing semblance of life and personality.
FIRST MEN  IN THE MOON is somewhat atypical, in that little stop-motion is utilized; the only animated creatures are the giant caterpillars and the larger Selenites. Despite a weak sound effect for their snapping mandibles, the caterpillars are impressive monsters, nicely detailed and animated, their menace enhanced by Johnson’s ponderous score, but essentially they are a throw-away plot device to get Bedford and Cavor separated, and to showcase the technology of the Selenites, who are able to fell the beast with some kind of ray gun. (We later see its skeleton is picked neatly clean – so much for the voracious monster!) The special effects equivalent of a bit player, the caterpillars do not provide Harryhausen with much opportunity for virtuoso work; the lead Selenites; however, are another matter.
The smaller Selenites are portrayed by children in rubber costumes, which are fairly well utilized, though the rubber faces sometimes bend awkwardly. (Harryhausen uses his special effects to increase their numbers, filming the same dozen or so three or four times and matting them into different parts of the frame.) The later Selenites are achieved with stop-motion, which gives them an entirely different character – more insect-like and alien, able to walk on spindly legs that would not support a human actor’s weight.
First Men in the Moon - x-ray skeleton
Kate under x-ray observation

They also have a peculiar, almost analytic personality, emphasized in a wonderful shot as one of them peers curiously through a distorting lens while observing Kate (who comically appears only as a talking skeleton, as if being examined via some kind of x-ray device). Harryhausen’s staccato stop-motion emphasizes the inhuman aspect of the Selenites, whose portrayal conforms with the attitude of the time, which often depicted alien life forms as emotionless “brainiacs,” who might be able to run an efficient society but would probably rob it of any soul, turning people into mindless drones.4 Perhaps the Selenites could have been portrayed with masks and makeup, but it is unlikely they would have achieved the same unearthly effect.
Other than that, Harryhausen restricts himself to depicting the wonders of a lunar voyage, putting his special effects in the service of the story instead of generating set-pieces to showcase his work. The results are spectacular to behold.The matching of miniatures to full-scale settings is marvelous, shifting seamlessly back and forth, and the composite work is convincing except for a few matte lines betraying the juncture between elements shot separately from each other. (There is also one weird jump-cut as Cavor and Bedford explore the lunar caves: while the angle angle moves in from long-shot to medium-shot on the actors, the matte painting in the background remains at the exact same distance.)
Five years before the first real-life moon landing, Harryhausen does a fine job of visualizing the event in the modern-day prologue, including a reasonably accurate depiction of a lunar module that separates from the mother ship to touch down on the surface. That the astronaut descends from the vehicle by hanging from a wire like a trapeze artist is eccentric but not enough to ruin the spectacle of the moment.
Cavor's sphere on the way to the Moon

The 1899 landing is a bit less elegant – the bouncing of the sphere betrays its miniature nature – but the trip through space is convincingly rendered. As Cavor and Bedford explore the Moon, the script provides several wonders beneath the surface, which Harryhausne realizes to perfection, including a gargantuan glass cylinders that provide oxygen for the Moon’s subterranean atmosphere and an enormous rotating orb that generates energy from the sun (yes, the 1964 film predicts solar power!). Hell, even the lunar surface is beautiful – more beautiful than the real thing, filled with eye-catching colors that are consistently amazing in both the live-action and the special effects.
Harryhausen’s hand-crafted techniques have their limitations. When combining live-action, matte paintings, miniatures, and models into a single shot, proper alignment usually required the camera to remain motionless (unlike the sweeping crane shots seen in today’s CGI spectacles). Yet this static quality created its own sense of style, forcing Harryhausen to fill the frame with dynamic action and to avoid letting any shot run on too long. Of all his work, FIRST MEN IN THE MOON is one of those that best disguises this shortcoming.
Perhaps this is due to the Panavision aspect ratio. FIRST MEN IN THE MOON is the only film Harryhausen ever made in a widescreen format, which allows filmmakers to squeeze more onto the edges of the frame without having to pan back and forth. Though Harryhausen felt the process was too cumbersome for his techniques, he filled the frame with such wonders that they eye is seldom aware that the camera has become locked down to enable the special effects.


Cavor claims the Selenites are small because of the Moon's gravity. Huh?
Cavor claims the Selenites are small because of the Moon's gravity. Huh?

Typical for its time, FIRST MEN IN THE MOON is a bit dodgy in its science. Although NASA receives a thank you in the credits, implying a level of authenticity, the film makes several unapologetic errors, assuming that viewers are not familiar with even the fundamentals of astronomy.

  • During the lunar flight, Kate touches the controls, sending the sphere careening off course. Cavor shouts angrily that the ship is now heading “straight for the sun!”  His tone somewhat overstates the danger: whereas the Moon is a mere 237,000 miles from Earth, the Sun is 93-million miles away. Assuming the sphere is traveling at the “speed of a bullet” as Cavor says (approximately 800 miles per hour, depending on the bullet), it would take 116,250 hours to reach the sun – that is, 4,843 days or a little bit more than 13 years. Even if the sphere were traveling ten times as fast (which it would need to do to make the lunar voyage in the few weeks the film implies), Cavor would have over a year to readjust the trajectory before falling into the sun. (On another note, though lip service is paid to the issues of food and oxygen, the lack of bathroom facilities is politely overlooked.)
  • When confronted with the first Selenite, Bedford remarks on the creature’s diminutive stature, to which Cavor replies, “It’s the low gravity” – as if the statement provides some kind of explanation. If low-gravity results in smaller life forms, one wonders how Cavor accounts for the giant caterpillars.
  • During Cavor and Bedford’s initial moonwalk, the film seems well aware of the low gravity; for instance, the not particularly athletic Cavor leaps into the air like John Carter of Mars. Yet when Kate and Bedford are re-assembling the sphere near the conclusion, they lug the items around as if they were at full weight.
  • The modern-day expedition beneath the lunar surface is conveyed to Earth via live television broadcast, but we are left to wonder: Who are manning the cameras that film the astronaut’s escape as the Selenite city collapses around them?
  • I suppose I should mention Cavorite. Back when Wells’ novel was published, Jules Verne (who strove for scientific accuracy in his own work) derided the concept of the anti-gravity Cavorite, famously demanding, “Show me this metal.”


The Grand Lunar, lead of Selenite society
The Grand Lunar, leader of Selenite society

Like much of Harryhausen’s oeuvre, FIRST MEN IN THE MOON falls short of being a masterpiece but remains a joyful entertainment. To some extent its appeal is rooted in nostalgia: a generation of viewers who saw it at an early age recall it fondly and enjoy revisiting it; some of those now-grownups have graduated to making their own science fiction and fantasy films, keeping the Harryhausen legacy alive through the next generation and beyond.
However, FIRST MEN IN THE MOON is not merely a museum piece. Its power to captivate an audience remains intact. Though today we are (justifiably) less inclined to forgive Bedford for his dishonesty, and more inclined to question Kate’s devotion to him, the film’s charm lays elsewhere, with Cavor and his mission to the Moon. The fanciful depiction of lunar travel has aged well, partly because the narrative’s framing device accounts for the archaic elements, which were always supposed to look like a leftover remnant from an earlier era. Perhaps more importantly, FIRST MEN IN THE MOON creates its own stylized semblance of space travel. Like the Wells novel, it presents a fantasy rather than believable science fiction, and fantasy’s power to entertain is unchecked by decades of real-world advances in science (unlike the more realistic approach of 1950’s DESTINATION MOON, which seems rather dull now).
Though the film will never stand as Harryhausen’s shining moment – others showcased his talent for amazing animation far more memorably – FIRST MEN IN THE MOON remains a job well done, its old-fashioned approach retaining a special charm five decades later. As Cavor transports himself and his comrades to the Moon, so Harryhausen transports the audience into a world of imagination where scientific impossibility takes a back seat to our Sense of Wonder.
A trip worth taking!
Cavor's sphere on the lunar surface
Cavor's sphere on the lunar surface


  1. One of the screenplay’s more felicitous decisions was incorporating this material into the main body of the story. Wells’ novel, originally published in serial format in a magazine, was intended to conclude with the sphere taking off and leaving Cavor on the moon, but the author decided to extend the story with three additional chapters in which the scientist sends wireless messages to Earth, offering an anthropological account of Selenite society. Communication is suddenly terminated when the Selenites realize that Cavor could transmit the formula for Cavorite, potentially paving the way for an invasion of the Moon. This extended epilogue worked in the literary format, expanding and deepening what had been up to that point an imaginative adventure rather than science fiction. This structure would have been dramatically anti-climactic in the film, which benefits from using Wells’ sociological ideas in the third act.
  2. This tactic used four years later with the character of Taylor (Charlton Heston)  in PLANET OF THE APES (1968).
  3. Juran pulled a similar stunt in the earlier Harryhausen film, 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH.
  4. Which is almost literally the case here: when the Selenite chemists have finished their failed attempt to analyze Cavorite, they are cocooned into hibernation. Cavor at first seems to approve of this method for “dealing with unemployment,” until Kate suggests the Selenites may do the same to them. Cavor is suitable horrified – the only time he truly seems wary of the Selenites.

first_men_in_moon_poster_resizeFIRST MEN IN THE MOON (Columbia Pictures, 1964). Produced by Charles H. Schneer. Directed by Nathan Juran. Screenplay by Nigel Kneale and Jan Read, based on the novel by H.G. Wells. 103 minutes. Not rated. Cast: Edward Judd, Martha Hyer, Lionel Jeffries, Miles Malleson, Norman Bird, Gladys Henson, Hugh McDermott, Betty McDowall,  Michael Ripper (uncredited), Peter Finch (uncredited), John Forbes-Robertson (uncredited).

Riddick in IMAX theatres September 6

Universal Pictures releases the next chapter in the Riddick saga, produced by One Race Productions and Radar Pictures. Vin Diesel returns as the titular anti-hero. The supporting cast includes Karl Urban (STAR TREK), Katee Sackhoff (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA), Nolan Gerard Funk, Dave Bautista, and Noah Danby.
David Twohy is back in the director’s chair, working from a script co-written with Oliver Butcher & Stephen Cornwell, based on characters created by Jim and Ken Wheat.
Rated R.
Theatrical Release: September 6, 2013

Trailer #1


Riddick one-sheet resize

After Earth review

After Earth vertical poster release date IMAXAt first glance, it might seem touching that Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith would produce a movie in order to turn their son into a star; after all, what parent does not want a child to follow in his/her footsteps? On closer inspection, however, AFTER EARTH borders on child abuse. Expected to exude macho charisma and dramatic gravitas, poor Jaden Smith (who was actually good in THE KARATE KID) winds up looking like a nervous child who, forced to play baseball by his father, strikes out with the bases loaded, his public humiliation aggravated by unrealistic paternal expectations. Not that Jaden Smith deserves to shoulder the blame: the film intended to serve as his star-vehicle is so badly written and directed that even Will Smith’s prodigious star charisma is dimmed to near invisibility.
There is a brief flash of interest at the very beginning, with a handful of shots cut together to show that Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) has been stranded on an unfamiliar world by the crash of a spaceship. Almost immediately, however, the succinct visual story-telling gives way to a voice-over exposition dump that sets the tone for the rest of the film: Humanity ruined Earth, so they had to move elsewhere, but we encountered aliens who bred monsters called Ursa that hunted us by smelling our fear. (Were we invading the alien’s planet, or were they trying to kick us out of our new home? This is never clarified.) Kitai’s father, Cypher Raige (Will Smith) learned to master fear, making himself invisible to the Ursa – a technique known as ghosting.
With that out of the way, we then embark on a flashback to set up the situation we have already seen. Cypher was on his way to a mission to release an Ursa; he brought estranged Kitai along in the hope of a little father-son bonding. After the crash, their only hope for survival is to secure a rescue beacon located in the tail section of the ship, which broke off and landed miles away.* With Cyper’s legs broken, it falls to Kitai to make the hazardous trek on his own. Unfortunately, he and his father are not quite the only survivors of the crash; the Ursa is out there roaming as well. Kitai, we learn from a later flash back (there are a few of them), was traumatized as a child when he saw his sister killed by an Ursa. Anyone want to guess what the dramatic conclusion of the film will be?
After Earth Jaden Smith UrsaIn case you missed the metaphor, AFTER EARTH is not only about living up to daddy’s expectations; it is also about mastering your fear. On screen, this translates to 90 minutes of Kitai sniveling, followed by the obligatory and totally expected final-reel moment when he man’s up, puts on his manly brave face, and bravely battles the Ursa. The sudden metamorphosis to virtual superhero, enhanced with computer-generated action gymnastics, reminds us of how much better this moment worked in THE MATRIX.
For such a simple – but potentially emotional – idea, AFTER EARTH is surprisingly muddled. For some reason, it is not enough that Kitai is emotionally scarred by the sight of his sister’s death; he also suffers from the belief that his father expected him to save her somehow – a ridiculously tall order for a mere toddler, and one that Cypher never contradicts (what a dad!). For some other reason, the adventure play out on Earth, which was supposedly destroyed by pollution and warfare but looks surprisingly verdant, all things considered. (Press notes indicate that a thousand years have passed, but viewers could hardly be blamed for thinking the emigration from Earth took place within living memory of the characters.) Also, we are told that everything on the planet has evolved to kill man, which seems rather extraordinary considering that no human has set foot there in a long time.
Director and co-writer M. Night Shyamalan (whose chance of recapturing his THE SIXTH SENSE glory seems to recede with each new film) emphasizes the sentimental aspects of the father-son relationship, to mawkish effect. He also seems unable to handle the heroics and the suspense convincingly; the film feels like an after-school special in which triumph of the young protagonist is a foregone conclusion. It hardly helps that the climax features Kitai wandering around a mountaintop with the rescue beacon held aloft like a cell phone in a “can you hear me now” commercial.

Jaden and Will Smith share a rare on-screen moment together.
Jaden and Will Smith share a rare on-screen moment together.

To be fair, Shymalan is saddled with the vehicle he was handed by Will Smith, which is not only misguided but also misleading. Though the trailer is cut to suggest a father-son adventure, the story is actually contrived to sideline the elder Smith so that Jaden can take center-stage for the majority of the running time, which he spends out in the wild while receiving motivational instructions via radio. With his usual jovial persona well submerged, Will Smith comes across as a stiff; his attempts to emote while stuck in a chair and watching the action from a distance become wearisome rather quickly. With other characters restricted mostly to flashbacks, that leaves little to break the tedium.
The result feels less like a drama than an instructional video: how to survive on an alien planet. And not a particularly inspirational one. “Fear is a choice” – the catchphrase emblazoned on the advertising art – is just not as pithy as, say, “Fear is the mind-killer.”
Technical credits are mostly impressive (Peter Suschitzky’s location photography makes the film look gorgeous), but some of the special effects have a slightly cartoon quality – which might be intentional, considering the overall juvenile tone.
There are one or two brights spots. In particular, there is a glorious eagle (computer-generated) who provides whatever heart the film has, easily upstaging Jaden Smith. For some reason, Shyamalan’s brand of hokum works well with animal characters, whose lack of complex, believable personalities is not an issue. The effectiveness of these moments suggests that AFTER EARTH might have worked better as an animated movie; the stylization of the form could have provided a buffer to help audiences swallow the treacle.
In any case, the old show biz adage about not working with children or animals now needs to be extended to include the phrase “even if the animal is CGI.” It is an amusing irony that, in a film designed to showcase the child, it turns out to be the animal who steals the show.
After Earth Jande Smith volcanoAFTER EARTH (Sony Pictures Release: May 31, 2013). Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Written by Gary Whitta and M. Night Shyamalan, from a story by Will Smith. Rated PG-13. 100 minutes. Cast: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoe Kravitz, Glenn Morshower, Kristofer Hivju, Sacha Dhawan, Chris Geere.

  • Of all things I expected from AFTER EARTH, the least of them was that the plot would essentially reprise the set-up of KING OF THE LOST WORLD (2005), which also had crash survivors tracking down the missing half of their vehicle in order to phone home.

FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS on MST3K: retrospective review

FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS seems like a near-perfect fit for MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. Despite the show’s reputation for ribbing the worst cinematic atrocities on the planet, MST3K is often most entertaining when addressing a film that is technically competent, even watchable in its own right, but marred by dated attitudes, heavy-handed messaging, and/or overdone melodrama. This is why ROCKETSHIP X-M worked so well on the show: with no papier-mâché sets at which to hurl verbal bricks, the crew of the Satellite of Love instead offered up trenchant remarks regarding its 1950s world view, particularly the “white male reality” underlying the film’s attitude toward women. FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS is essentially a German-Polish variation on ROCKETSHIP X-M: filmed in 1960 as Der Schweigende Stern (“The Silent Star”), it offers bigger production values, including widescreen color photography and 4-track stereo sound, but its overly serious tone, heavy handed anti-nuclear message, and occasional soap opera melodrama cry out for the MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 treatment. As funny as the results are, however, they are not quite as funny as they might have been.

First Spaceship on Venus as seen on Mystery Science Theater 3000
The star field of the opening credits is likened to a sneeze

One of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000’s most beneficial services is that it occasionally allows you to view films that you either want or feel obligated to see, while providing a laugh track to help you through the longueurs. With its elaborate sets, imaginative production design, and sometimes trippy special effects, THE SILENT STAR, in its original form, is visually interesting enough to warrant attention, and on-screen wisecracks from Joel, Crow T. Robot, and Tom Servo are just the thing to lighten up the dreadfully humorless tone of the original. What prevents this episode from reaching the absolute zenith of hilarity is that FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS is presented in its truncated American version.
Given the MST3K format, with Joel Hodgson and his robot pals hurling peanut gallery insults at the screen, it was probably necessary to use the English-language version, but the bad dubbing  – combined with the faded, pan-and-scan print – makes FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS look and sound like a cheap sci-fi flick – an obvious target that deserves to be pilloried, as opposed to a near-miss redeemed by MST’s 3Klaugh-alone camaraderie. Also, the shorter cut (79 minutes) deletes several potentially hilarious scenes: melodramatic moments meant to add weight to the story (such as one character’s suggestion that the ship’s lone female astronaut should be making babies instead of risking her life – “white male reality” indeed!), along with a pro-Soviet subtext that would have been rife for riffing.
The crew of the Satellite of Love watch First Spaceship on VenusEven so, the Americanized version of FIRST SPACE SHIP offers plenty of opportunity for enjoyable nonsense. The pressurized space suits and other technology draw the inevitable – and perfectly appropriate – reference to the old Major Matt Mason toy line, while the ridiculous outfit worn inside the ship is likened to a teddy bear. The Venusian atmosphere, with its swirling gaseous colors is compared to “creamy nugget.” When one character foolishly manages to get himself run over by a harmless-looking robot, the doctor’s diagnosis of “internal injuries” sounds a bit too much like “eternal injuries,” prompting Joel to remark “Even in the afterlife?”
The interstitial segments (which could sometimes be hit and miss on MST3K) are enlivened by a running gag in which Tom Servo has had his “Sarcasm Sequencer” turned up. After 90 minutes of  excessive iron (“Ooo, sign me up for more of that!”), the joke pays off when his head goes up in an explosive puff of smoke. (Don’t worry – he recovers.)
First Spaceship on Venus (1960) posterRare for MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, the episode ends with Crow T. Robot expressing some deserved praise for the film: “I liked the international flavor, and it had a lot of action”. There is no doubt that FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS deserves the MST3K treatment, but it is nice to hear a small acknowledgement that the film is not totally bereft of positive qualities. If you want to watch this film straight up, then checked out the subtitled version under the title THE SILENT STAR is the way to go. In its truncated and dubbed form, MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 is the only way to go.
The episode is available on DVD as part of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION box set, which also includes LASERBLAST, WEREWOLF, and FUTURE WAR. It is also available as VOD through Netflix Instant Viewing.

Click here to read a review of the original European version, titled THE SILENT STAR, which ran as part of Cinefantastique’s 50th anniversary tribute to the horror, fantasy, and science fiction films of 1960.

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: Season 3, Episode 11 – FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS (air date: December 29, 1990). Cast: Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Kevin Murphy, Jim Mallon, Frank Conniff, Crist Ballas, Michael J. Nelson

Ridley Scott on 'Alien' Prequel

The Space JockeyCovering the L.A. Times Hero Complex screenings and Q&A, Ain’t It Cool reported Ridley Scott’s revelations about the ALIEN prequels.
Yes, there are two movies planned, with both parts already scripted.

Scott told the audience his inspiration:

“…In the first Alien, when John Hurt climbed up and over the top of the rise… there was a massive giant lying in a chair. The chair was either a form of engine or some piece of technology and I always thought no one has ever asked who was the space jockey?”

Apparently, the film will be set long before the events of ALIEN, and we’ll discover that the space jockey seen in that film might have been a kind of space suit, rather than a decayed corpse. The audience will be shown who the ‘Jockey’ was, and where he came from.
“Terraforming” (re-making a planet into a preferred bio-sphere) will be a theme of the film, and there will be an attempt to depict space travel and this kind of project in a manner somewhat more realistic than most science fiction films.
Read many more details regarding making ALIEN, and about Ridley Scott’s attempts to bring Joe Haldeman’s SF Novel The Forever War to the screen.

Worthington will space out as Allan Quatermain

Sam Worthington in Avatar
Sam Worthington in Avatar reports that Sam Worthington – who hit big in two science fiction films last year, AVATAR and TERMINATOR SALVATION – will produce and star in QUATERMAIN, a sci-fi updating of H. Rider Haggard’s Victorian adventurer Allan Quatermain, who served as the inspiration for numerous cinematic action heroes (I’m looking at you, Indiana Jones!). According to Hollywood Reporter, the story has Quatermain returning to Earth from a mission in outer space, only to find that humanity is no more, leading to adventure on a “planetwide scale.”
The QUATERMAIN script is by Mark Verheiden (TIME COP). Worthington will produce, along with Miles Millar and Alfred Gough (SMALLVILLE) for DreamWorks.
click to purchase
click to purchase

Allan Quatermain was born in Haggard’s young-adult novel King Solomon’s Mines, helping an English lord search for his brother, who has disappeared in an uncharted section of Africa, searching for the titular treasure. The story was a hit that spawned sequels and influenced such films as 1933’s KING KONG (which also features an uncivilized modern tribe of dark-skinned savages living in the remnants of a lost civilization). Eventually, Quatermain met up with Haggard’s other famous literary creation, the immortal Ayesha, in She and Allan.
On screen, Quatermain has been played by actors as diverse as Stewart Granger, Richard Chamberlain, and Patrick Swayze. Even former James Bond Sean Connery had a go at the role, giving an impressive performance in the otherwise overblown THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (2003).
If Worthington has anything going against him, it is his youth, as we first meet Quatermain as a somewhat world-weary man, who inevitably finds himself in life-or-death situations – not a gung-ho thrill-seeker looking for action. On the other hand, later Quatermain books were prequels, filling in the character’s early years, so perhaps Worthington is a good fit.

Director Duncan Jones takes viewers to the far side of the “Moon” – Interview, Part 2

Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell
Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell

In Part 1 of our interview with Duncan Jones, the director discussed the films that influenced him when he conceived of MOON, his feature-film directing debut, which stars Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell, an astronaut who is the sole employee of a mining operation on the far side of Earth’s nearest neighbor in the Solar System. In Part 2, we explore some issues that relate to the film’s plot twist, so if you are afraid of spoilers, do not read this until after seeing the film (which you really should do, by the way).
After an accident on the lunar surface, Sam Bell wakes up in the moon-base’s sick bay, where he is attended by GERTY, a talking robot, but Sam has no memory of the accident. It turns out that this is a new Sam; when he goes to the scene of the accident, he recovers the old Sam, and the two Sams eventually realize they are just a pair of clones in a long series, each with a three-year life span, working alone until they die to be replaced by the next in line. Ironically, the company for which the Sams work is a “green” company, mining minerals to provide eco-friendly energy for Earth. Duncan Jones insists there was no political message to this plot twist.
Director Duncan Jones
Director Duncan Jones

DUNCAN JONES: There’s nothing political about it. It’s very much tongue-in-cheek – the idea that the company he works for is a green energy company. I thought that was an amusing idea: no matter how positive a company is in what they’re trying to do, if they are a company, they are by nature trying to be profitable, and if they are trying to be profitable, they going to try to cut corners; unfortunately, Sam is one of those corners they’re trying to cut.
Jones also points out that he is not making a negative statement about the morality of cloning.
DUNCAN JONES: The only problem I have with cloning is it limits the genetic diversity of any particular given species. No one says that identical twins are clones, although technically they are. But as soon as they’re born and as soon as they start having their own lives, experience takes them in different directions. It’s like chaos theory: one little thing can make someone completely different from his identical twin. They are technically clones, but they are human beings.
My biggest problem with it is on the medical side – genetic variation. We are creating problems for ourselves on a biological level. But the entities that we create are lives.… One of the things I studied in philosophy was a guy called Daniel Bennett, and one of the things he described was something called “functional equivalence”: If something – if a machine, in particular – behaves to you as if it has sentience, it is your moral duty to attribute it as a sentient thinking. You have to treat it as an entity in its own right. It doesn’t matter if it’s made of cheese or wood or mechanics or organs; it’s still something that you need to deal with as a sentient being. I don’t care what something is made out of. What I care about is how I deal with it.
Besides the science fiction films that influenced Duncan Jones (SILENT RUNNING, OUTLAND, etc), there were two films that he had Sam Rockwell looked to for inspiration while preparing for MOON, including David Cronenberg’s DEAD RINGERS, which featured Jeremy Irons as a pair of identical twins.
DUNCAN JONES: There was one film that I wanted him to watch, which was DEAD RINGERS, purely because of the effect and because it gave him an idea of how to differentiate the characters. A role that he’s mentioned a number of times as being really important to him is the Dustin Hoffman role in MIDNIGHT COWBOY. That was a touchstone for him as far as what he wanted to do with the character.
Having one actor play two roles necessitated quite a few special effects, which had to be achieved on a limited budget. Jones planned out the script carefully, in order to spread the “money shots” throughout MOON.
DUNCAN JONES: There are certain effects like having one actor perform multiple parts, where on a shot by shot level, there are certain shots where you can do it cheap and certain shots where it costs a lot of money. The idea was to work out a narrative for the film, where I could tell my story and I could spread those effects over the course of the movie and make sure a number of them were the cheaper ones and then make sure there was a spread over the course of film of the more expensive ones that lure you into the sense that you’re seeing a bigger film.
So things like, if you have a locked off camera with Sam talking to Sam, and you can find an easy place to split the screen – that’s cheap. You do that where you can. Then once in a while you spend the money and get a motion control rig in and you have the camera moving along and you have one Sam walk in front of the other one. And then once on a rare occasion, you have Sam physically interacting with Sam. That was an effect we knew we could achieve. DEAD RINGERS didn’t do it, and Spike Jonze didn’t do it in ADAPTATION. So we really felt like we were pushing the envelope a little bit with that particular effect – which is a great thing to do on an independent film.
One of the trickery scenes involved a game of ping-pong between the two Sams, which required keeping the camera locked off so that footage filmed at two different times could be put together with the set and props lining up on both sides of the frame.
DUNCAN JONES: That was a bit crazy because Sam – bless him – didn’t understand how important it was not to touch the table. We did a couple of takes where he was playing one side of that game, where he was playing Sam 1, the older Sam, and that went smoothly. He went up to do his makeup change and we were like, ‘Nobody touch the table; we can’t afford to touch the table.’ Sam came down and did the first take as Sam 2 and immediately scattered it all over the place.’
Me and the effects guy were like ‘Oh my god, what are we going to do?’ We went off into the corner and worked out what we could do. We actually did the playback of the selected takes, and it actually worked really well, so we got that on the first take of Sam 2, and it was like ‘Oh, thank god!’
The way we did that was to audio. We had some proper table tennis guy play a game and recorded the sound of that. Sam, who has a good ear for rhythm, was able to listen to that and he would be miming to the sound of the table tennis game, and we CG-ed the ball in.
One of the nice achievements of MOON is that it presents the audience with the situation of the two Sams and lets viewers figure it out as the story progresses, without belaboring the details of why the company is doing this or how long it has been going on (although we do get a glimpse of lots of clones in cold storage, indicating that this is a long, long, long-term project).
DUNCAN JONES: It’s a huge challenge to guess how far ahead the audience is going to be from where you are when your telling the story. That is the real challenge, as a feature director, that I am learning now, and it’s probably going to take me a long time, working on feature films, knowing how much the audience is ahead of me or behind me while I’m trying to tell the story. I don’t think we had any real idea other than writing scripts, reading scripts, giving it to people we trusted to read it, and screening it for people whose opinions we cared about – to get a sense of where we were and whether we got the balance right. That’s going to take a long time.
The film doesn’t even find it necessry to spel out Sam’s three-year life-span; we simply know he thinks he has a three-year contract, and we judge from his deteriorating condition that the time limit is the result of the clone wearing out after that long.
DUNCAN JONES: I hate exposition; I absolutely hate exposition. That was one of the things I was constantly editing out of the script, and it doesn’t matter. All you need is to feel that the universe feels coherent and that it makes sense and that the world the story takes place in is believable because there are no immediate contradictions. A lot of those grey areas sort themselves out. As long as you give people enough ideas about how the world works, if something is not explicitly described, I think they’ll go along with it or they’ll just fill it in for themselves. You just have to make an assumption of where you audience is going to be and whether they’re going to accept it.
One of the ways Jones avoids spoken exposition is by providing visual clues for the audience. For example, during an early skirmish between the two Sams (neither of whom wants to admit the other’s identity at the time), the older version loses a tooth.
DUNCAN JONES: That was an opportunity to give Sam a physical prop to explain his degeneration as a character. The idea is that he has this three-year lifespan and he starts to break down; the molar was a way to show that. We were talking about wanting to avoid exposition. There was a case of I could have either done that with a dialogue scene between the Sams, or I could just show him losing a tooth. That was the way we tried to get around those exposition moments.
Hard at work, Sam doesn't know his three-year contract is really a death sentence.

Sam’s three-year life-span is reminiscent of the limited lifespan of the replicants in BLADE RUNNER. Also, his physical deterioration recalls the slow death of Seth Brundle in David Cronenberg’s 1986 version of THE FLY. However, Duncan Jones says he was not making a statement on the inevitability of death.
DUNCAN JONES: That would be a stretch for me to say that was my intention. I think maybe that’s a pleasant extra. What I really wanted to get at was the idea of you meeting yourself and getting the opportunity to say you’re a decent person. If you met yourself in person would you like yourself? Would you be able to accept that or would you only see the faults? That’s an important thing for anyone who sees the film. If they come out of it thinking about who they are as a person and what they’re like to deal with, I think that would be a good result.
This theme of meeting yourself has personal resonance for Jones, who has made a conscious effort to establish his own identity, apart from any association with his famous father (singer David Bowie).
DUNCAN JONES: There are lots of things in this film that are very autobiographical. The idea of being able to meet yourself or put your hand on your own shoulder and say, ‘Everything’s going to be okay.’ That’s what the film’s about and that’s what I went through, and I think a lot of people go through that. I think the ‘me’ of now is very different from the me at graduate school.
Now that MOON is getting good critical reaction, there is a chance that Hollywood may open it doors for Jones, but he is careful about weighing his options.
DUNCAN JONES: I would always want to be a bit choosy. I’m fortunate in that there’s been a good reaction from the festivals and in the industry about the film so far, so I am starting to get offered scripts. It is disappointing sometimes when you read the scripts and see the kind of things you get offered. But there’s some good things coming across. And there’s the project that I originally wanted to do with Sam. That’s kind of the other side of the coin. I think these two films are a really good pair. The first one is about isolation and loneliness, and the other one is a much busier, nosier kind of film. It’s a thriller based in a future Berlin…. If MOON is inspired by films like OUTLAND and SILENT RUNNING, then the next one, MUTE, is inspired by BLADE RUNNER.
MUTE will in one sense be a sequel to MOON, in that Jones hopes to include Rockwell in a cameo that would tie up some loose ends left by the film’s closing shot, which consists of a rocket ship taking the younger Sam to Earth, while a radio voice-over (presumably a Rush Limbaugh-type right-wing talk show host) comments skeptically on the stir caused by the clone’s arrival and the revelations Sam makes about what the energy company is doing on the Moon.
DUNCAN JONES: We tried a few different endings. We tried it without that [voice-over], with just the visuals. It just felt a little too ‘70s for my liking. It was really flat, really dead. That was a nice way of splitting the difference between showing what really happened when he got back to Earth and keeping it this really somber, dead-pan, no audio ending. Because it’s just voices you can get away with it being podcasts or or radio or whatever, but hopefully if I do get to do MUTE – Sam and I have already talked about it – we’re going to do a little cameo for him. Just a really small cameo to explain what happened to him when he got back to Earth.
Audiences leave the theatre with negative feelings toward the company cloning the Sams, only to work each new one to death for three years. Some viewers may wish that the film had had the budget for Sam to blow up the Moon-based in an act of revenge, but Jones says that was never part of his conception. However, one other big idea did fall by the wayside, involving the multitude of clones in deep freeze.
DUNCAN JONES: There was talk at one point where we were thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool at the end if they all woke up?’ But we couldn’t afford it.