In praise of model and practical effects work in ‘Moon’

Posted by · 9:25 am · August 17th, 2009

MoonThe success of Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9,” (thoughts) and hopefully (eventually), Duncan Jones’s “Moon” (review) has fed into what I’ve been consistently calling a banner year for sci-fi cinema in 2009.  That is, of course, assuming “Avatar” does come along and lay a giant egg in December.

One of the galvanizing aspects to, well, two of these films, anyway, is the independent focus.  The modestly budgeted aspect that keeps the spirit of high concept indie filmmaking alive.  And in the case of Jones’s film, the use of practical effects free of frivolous CGI is cause for celebration.  At least that’s what Guardian writer Phelim O’Neill is getting at with a recent piece that declares the film’s old-school effects should be a model for today’s sci-fi films.

In particular, it’s the model work in the film that is so exciting to O’Neill.  There is a humorous “then and now” photo of George Lucas that has made the rounds, the underlying point being that the director lost his creative drive when he began using heavy CGI in the “Star Wars” franchise.  Personally, I think that’s silly, because, well, the “Star Wars” films are bad with models or without them (my opinion).  But there is something about the tangible quality of practical effects that makes the reward of watching a film that much richer.  “Moon” is one level on that scale.  “The Dark Knight” is another.  It doesn’t have to be a money concern. C reatively, it can have a more visceral impact.

Here’s what O’Neill had to say:

I was fortunate enough to visit Moon’s model workshop and it was like walking into the pictures I used to pore over in publications such as Starlog and Starburst. Some rather impressive models built for one of the many false-starting Red Dwarf movies were being cannibalised to provide detailing for Moon’s lunar mining facility. Bill Pearson, who worked on Alien, Outland, Flash Gordon and others, was winding down his Shepperton base – Moon provided a chance for one final daring mission before his talented crew was disbanded…

CGI has made a lot of great things possible in movies, it’s just that it’s done so at the expense of a great many still-viable skill sets that will soon vanish into history…For instance, in Cinefex’s issue on Alien, there’s a section on how Ridley Scott had the xenomorph’s translucent head cavity filled with maggots to create some texture and movement – the maggots were sprinkled with LSD and sugar to get them going. Now, it may not have worked but, boy, that’s a more fascinating tale than the stories of choosing the right graphics or grading plug-in that fill Cinefex’s pages these days.

Read the rest at The Guardian.

→ 4 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

4 responses so far

  • 1 8-17-2009 at 10:14 am

    The Z said...

    I loved the effects in “Moon.” You don’t see that type of effects work anymore – and it’s a wonder that there’s still folks out there doing it 20 years into the dominance of CGI.

    I think it be a wonderful coup is “Moon” found itself nominated for a VFX Oscar, or even shortlisted for the category… But I know, with great lament that we’ll probably be getting “Transformers” (which we saw in 2007), “Star Trek” (good but not the reason the film was well-received), and other big-budget blockbusters.

    Still, fingers crossed…

  • 2 8-17-2009 at 12:24 pm

    chad said...

    Moon is the only film this year that has me actually wondering, “How did they do that?”. Fantastic effects, and not just the models but also the split screen.

  • 3 8-17-2009 at 1:24 pm

    david said...

    I was much more impressed with the film’s effects, score (by Clint Mansell), and set design then I was by the film it’s self.

    I usually enjoy intelligent science fiction (I love 2oo1: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, and The Fountain while also finding great value in films like Slaughterhouse-Five, and Gattaca), but I just couldn’t warm up to Sam Rockwell’s character (though I thought he gave a fine performance(s) overall), and just found the film tedious despite a relatively short running time. I just found it curiously uninvolving, despite an interesting premise and an intelligent screenplay. There was just something missing from this film that always kept me at an emotional distance, and from being able to fully embrace it.

    It always bothers me when I really want to fall in love with a film, but then, for whatever reason, I don’t connect with it the way I had been hoping I would.

    Anyway, really looking forward to seeing District 9. Getting mixed feedback from friends I know who have seen it already. I’ve got modest expectations going in, so we’ll see what happens.

  • 4 8-17-2009 at 2:23 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    Kris, dont get rude at Star Wars now