Thursday, July 30, 2009

Many Moons

So, I'm a little late, but apparently July 20 was the 40th Anniversary of the first moon landing (thanks, Google). And what did this silly little holiday get me thinking about? Well, movies, of course.

No, not movies starring or executive produced by Tom Hanks, but other movies, movies like the ones above -- George Melie's 1902 classic "A Trip to the Moon" and Duncan Jones' 2009 debut, "Moon."

I saw "A Trip to the Moon" in film school (it is, after all, considered to be the first major example of visual effects -- just ask the Visual Effects Society). And what effects! If you're a film lover who's never seen this short, silent beauty, you're denying yourself a wondrous, nostalgic and vital piece of cinematic history. Though quite primitive by today's standards, the visual tricks employed in this film are astounding given that the production took place over a century ago. Like Merian C. Cooper's "King Kong," the experience of "Trip" is one in which your imagination runs parallel with the imagination of the filmmaker -- you put yourself in Melie's shoes and feel his desire to achieve the best look he could with the tools available. I'd say he succeeded. (Though it's of poor quality, you can watch portions of "A Trip to the Moon" on YouTube.)

Jones' film falls under a category that, unfortunately, is gaining strength: Movies of 2009 I'd Have Seen By Now If I Weren't So Freaking Busy. Thus, I can't really offer any "Moon" insights aside from what my crisp intuition tells me: Jones -- aka David Bowie's son -- offers a strong debut with vintage sensibilities, an affecting performance by Sam Rockwell, and concentrated, borderline claustrophobic character development (my favorite). Word is that "Moon" harks back to Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," complete with a HAL-9000-like supercomputer voiced by Kevin Spacey. And, with that, I offer a shameful confession: I've never seen "2001." That's right: I'm guilty of denying myself a wondrous, nostalgic and vital piece of cinematic history. And, in fact, I'll probably get around to seeing "Moon" before "2001," inspiring yet another instance of what I like to call "Referential Reverse."

Sorry, I'm drifting off into space. Back to the point. The Moon. Movies about the Moon. Movies with "Moon" in the title. Recent reports confirm that there's one such film none of us will be seeing again anytime soon: the original Apollo 11 moon landing footage (aka the visual documentation of the 40-year-old event that essentially inspired this post). Apparently NASA accidentally taped over Neil Armstrong's legendary lunar stroll. Suddenly I don't feel so bad about the whole "2001" thing.

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