Celebrating Great Films

Monday, July 20, 2009


MoonUnranked at time of writing.

It's a conspiracy! This film has been voted for by enough people, who have rated it high enough, yet it's not on IMDb's Top 250!

It easily deserves to be. It's a quiet, creepy and wonderful character-based science fiction yarn. No alien invasions nor CGI explosions, just a lonely man working out his time on a lunar mining base.

Directed by Duncan Jones, aka Zowie Bowie, and featuring a tour-de-force performance by Sam Rockwell, this wonderful story manages to pay homage to a golden age of celluloid sci-fi (think 2001, Silent Running, Alien, Outland...), and yet still be totally original. It brings the old tropes right up to date.

Moon was screened at NASA's Space Center Houston at the request of a professor there, as part of a lecture series. Softcore punk porn site SuicideGirls interviewed Duncan Jones about it:

"He'd been reading online that we'd done this film about Helium-3 mining and that's something that people at NASA are working on," said Jones. "We did a Q&A afterward. They asked me why the base looked so sturdy, like a bunker, and not like the kind of stuff they are designing that they are going to transport with them. I said 'Well, in the future I assume you won't want to continue carrying everything with you, you'll want to use the resources on the moon to build things' and a woman in the audience raised her hand and said, 'I'm actually working on something called Mooncrete, which is concrete that mixes lunar regolith and ice water from the moon's polar caps.'"

Monday, July 13, 2009

Lawrence of Arabia

#41 at time of writing.

Some films belong to the director - it is the director's vision that makes them great. Some belong to the writer - the script is solid gold. This film belongs to the cinematographer. Director of Photography Freddie Young won the first of three Oscars in a row working with David Lean with this masterpiece of desolate beauty.

The music and acting style seems a little florid by modern standards, but the overall experience is too grand to be let down by such petty things. This is a true epic. Not only is it a very (and perhaps unnecessarily) long film telling a sweeping tale of flawed heroism in a wonderfully majestic setting, but the story behind the film is equally impressive.

Lawrence of Arabia

The film is based on the real T E Lawrence's arguably exaggerated autobiography "Seven Pillars of Wisdom", covering his involvement in the Arab Revolt against the Turks during World War I. At the time he was seen as a dramatic paladin, largely thanks to the theatrical efforts of photo-journalist Lowell Thomas (on whom the Jackson Bentley character is based), but this film depicts Lawrence as a strange and conflicted character - vain and modest, moral and immoral, heroic and cowardly.

Fascinatingly, this production left an unexpected legacy. King Hussein of Jordan lent an entire brigade of his Arab Legion as extras for the film, so most of the "soldiers" are played by real soldiers. Hussein frequently visited the sets and became enamored of a young British secretary, Antoinette Gardiner, who became his second wife in 1962. Their oldest son, Abdullah II King of Jordan, ascended to throne in 1999.

Lawrence himself left an unexpected legacy - when he was fatally injured in a motorcycle accident in May 1935 (age 46), one of the doctors attending to him was a young neurosurgeon, Hugh Cairns. He was so moved by the tragedy that he began a lifelong and ultimately successful campaign to make crash helmets compulsory for motorcycle riders, which has saved countless lives.

Trivia: Although nearly four hours long, this film has no women in speaking roles. I can't think of another film that features no women, can you?