Duncan Jones’ feature debut Moon remains one of the best science fiction films of the 21st century. Moon’s story subverts both genre conventions and audience expectations; Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) thinks he’s nearing the end of his three-year contract mining helium-3 on the moon, but his story quickly becomes much more complicated.
A decade on, the film still packs a punch — and has become part of a larger universe, what with Sam Bell’s cameo in Jones’ film for Netflix, Mute, and Jones’ plans for a third film as an end to the arc.
In celebration of the film’s 10th anniversary and 4K ultra HD restoration (to be released on July 16), Polygon spoke to Jones about his recollections of making the film, and his vision for the future.
You mentioned during the original press tour that there was stuff that got left off of the Blu-ray release that might make it onto an anniversary release; what new things can we expect to see with the 10th anniversary restoration?
We actually had a slightly different ending, where we’re actually able to follow Sam Bell’s character back down to Earth, and the last scene where he goes to see his daughter and leaves her a present. We had shot that scene, but again, because of the restrictions of the budget, we never really had the connective tissue from him flying back towards Earth to really set up to that final scene.
We didn’t go back and shoot it, but what we did do is we put that scene that we did shoot on the disc, so if you want to be able to see that, you can see that.
Do you think there’s anything you would have changed if Moon had been shot with a higher budget?
I don’t know. Because it was designed to be a capsule film, one where it’s so enclosed and works that way, I don’t think I would’ve changed it or tried to break it out into something bigger, because it was never designed to be that. It was always designed to be what it is. There’s always “what ifs,” like if I’d had a few more days to shoot this, or anything like that, maybe I would’ve.
I’m proud of the film that we made, and I love it for what it is, but like you say, that connective tissue for the ending, it would’ve been interesting to shoot that just to see if that different ending would have given it a slightly different feel.
You’ve spoken about originally wanting to make Mute first; did you always have the story for Moon in mind as part of a planned trilogy or was the broader universe something that just kind of came out of working on it?
The broader universe was really just a fun element to add to what was really three films that were more of an anthology than any kind of sequel. They cover similar subject matter — autonomy, parenting, the kinds of things that interest me — and it made sense that they would all take place within the same future, which I really enjoyed writing about.
Mute was the first one that was written, and as I was writing Moon, I was starting to see that there were similar themes. When it came to writing the third film, it was already very much established in my mind: “If those two films go together, how does this one fit into that same time period and that same world that we were working on when we did Moon and Mute?”
So have you finished the script for the third film?
Yeah, that one’s been done for a while. I’m working on a graphic novel of it right now. It’s a bigger film. It’s going to be a tricky one to finance in this era where original material on a bigger budget is difficult to get made, so I definitely want to do the graphic novel so at least it will exist in some form. Then, hopefully, if people read the graphic novel and get really excited about it, I’m gonna try and use that as a way to leverage getting the movie made.
Despite taking place in the same universe and sharing themes, Moon and Mute are so different in visual style and tone. Is that a kind of disparity that you see continuing to the third part?
Absolutely. I think they’re different genres, in a way, even though they’re all science fiction. I think Moon is a human drama. Mute is a noir thriller. The third film is basically an action road movie. They’re three very different things, but at the same time, I think the science fiction and those underlying themes is what really connects them. I think they’re an anthology in a very European, like Three Colours. It’s more like that.
When did you decide to put that Sam Bell cameo in Mute?
It was after we’d shot Moon. I’d always been going back to Mute as, like, “Oh, I want to make this bit, and I want to make this bit.” I have this longtime producer, Stuart Fenegan, who I’ve done all my movies with, and straight after Moon, we got onto Source Code. But in that tiny fraction of a second before jumping onto Source Code, I was thinking, “Okay, can we make Mute now? Do we have the cache to make Mute?” Because Moon had been a success and I’d been thinking about how they tie in together, I’d already put the Moon Sam Bell cameo into the Mute script.
I recall reading that initially you had envisioned Mute as a contemporary thriller rather than the sci-fi noir that it is. Was ever that kind of a change with Moon?
Moon was always written very specifically to address a kind of a shopping list of, “These are the things that we need to achieve this film, and these are the resources that we have.” We felt like, “Okay, at this stage we’re at and with the connections we have, we can probably raise a budget of about $3-5 million.”
We know we want to have as controlled an environment as possible, so let’s try and design something that we can shoot entirely in a soundstage. Let’s keep the cast as small as possible — it doesn’t get any smaller than one — and let’s make it something that would appeal to an actor, and in this case in particular, to Sam Rockwell. What can we give him as an acting challenge that will entice him to come and do this low-budget British science fiction film with a first time director? What we had to offer was, “Sam, you get to be all the characters, and you get to interact with each other.” That’s what we had on offer for him.
I also read that Paddy Considine was at one point considered for the role of Sam Bell, in case Sam Rockwell fell through. Do you feel like the altered casting would have affected the character at all?
It did get dangerously close. Because it was such a small production, we were just moving ahead as if the film was going to get made no matter what. Sam wasn’t fully attached until the last minute. We were kind of starting to say, “Okay, we might need to make this change, and if Sam’s not going to do it, Paddy would be a fantastic replacement.”
I don’t think it would have changed the character at all. It certainly wouldn’t have changed the script. I think, in a way, what I loved about Paddy as an option, was that, like Sam Rockwell, they both have an everyman quality. There’s an immediate and natural empathy that I think audiences have for both of those actors. I think that’s why, as a casting option, Paddy felt like a very natural fit that we could drop into the film if we needed to.
I wanted to ask about the casting of Matt Berry as well; I feel like he’s primarily known as a comedic actor.
Yeah, Matt Berry — and Benedict Wong, next to him, the two of them, they were buddies of mine. Back in London, where we were making the film, it’s quite a small, tight community in film, and there was this notorious drinking spot where we all used to hang out. I asked if they would come and do the cameo, and they way more established than I was, and it would be really fun to have a cameo with these two guys that I knew. That’s kind of what it was back then. The fact that Matt has risen to such heights with Toast of London and his other shows, it’s lucky casting.
Speaking of luck, the degree to which the film feels prescient with regards to energy is almost uncanny.
I don’t know whether the solutions we have are going to pan out. I hope they do. I had read a book by Robert Zubrin called Entering Space, and it was much more from the side of, “What could we be doing on the moon that would justify us being up there?” He was really, in that book, the one who laid out this whole idea of helium-3 mining being a resource that possibly would be valuable enough to justify setting up moon bases. The science background came from that book, Entering Space. Unfortunately, I guess, it was kind of prescient. We are going to be facing worse and worse energy crises, and as crazy as it might sound, far out there ideas like setting bases on the moon to mine for resources might actually be more realistic now than it seems back when we made the movie.
What’s the story behind the name of Sarang (which means “love” in Korean) Station?
[laughs] Well, I am now a very happily married man with two beautiful kids, but back in those days, I was dating this girl from Korea, who lived on the other side of the world, so it was basically a long-distance relationship. I was very much enamored and traumatized in a kind of “young artist feeling like the world was against me because I was separated from this girl” way. That was what was going on in my life. It kind of came out in the movie at the time.
What was the sci-fi you loved while you were growing up?
Obviously, I grew up in an era where Star Wars is the be-all, end-all of sci-fi movies. When I was growing up, that was very much a film that I loved, and then as I got a little bit older, I discovered Blade Runner, and that obviously became a big science fiction influence to me.
I actually got into film school writing about a movie called The Blood of Heroes. It was also known as The Salute of the Jugger. It was the directing debut of David Peoples, who wrote 12 Monkeys and Blade Runner, and all these amazing science fiction films, and he went out to Australia to shoot it, and basically did it as his low budget science fiction directing debut. It’s a great film, and it stars Rutger Hauer and Joan Chen, and I absolutely adored it. It was an influence on me because he had found a way to make a science fiction film on a budget, which had a real sense of world creation. I think that’s what we wanted to do with Moon. Even though it’s a small film, I feel like this exists in a reality I can believe in.
Have you found that you prefer working big or small?
Every kind of film is what it needs to be in order to get made. You could make a much smaller Warcraft movie, but I think part of what appeals to people who would be interested in seeing that movie is the full expanse of all the creatures and the different locations, and the scale of what Warcraft is. I think you could build a smaller, indie Warcraft movie, but it would be very different from what I think most of the audience who loves Warcraft would be hungry for.
In the same way, some would say that some people already have made bigger budget versions of Moon and Source Code, but I like those films for what they are and for what they were designed to be. But there are absolutely other ways to make those. I’m sure we could have filmed like Oblivion, which has very similar ideas, and it works absolutely in its own right, it’s just a different way to approach making those kinds of movies.
Is there any recent sci-fi you’ve really enjoyed?
It’s hard for me to tell. I’ve got two little kids right now, so it’s really, really hard to keep up with what’s going on, and science fiction is very much in vogue right now, so there’s a lot of stuff coming out. You could even describe a lot of the Marvel movies as science fiction. The scope between Star Wars and Marvel and everything in between, all of the other films that are getting made, I’m not sure what’s in vogue right now other than science fiction in its most general sense.
So what you’re watching right now is mostly dictated by your kids?
Oh my God. I have seen Despicable Me more times than I can possibly say. It’s wonderful and I enjoy it, but it would be nice to see a couple of films I hadn’t seen before. [laughs] That’s the limit you hit as a parent. It’s like, “These films are really great, they’re well-crafted, and I’m so glad that these people were able to make these movies, but I really just want to see something new.”