Déjà Viewing: Why You Need to See ‘Moon’ Before ‘Oblivion’

Brent SImon
Movie Talk

All signs point to Tom Cruise's newest science-fiction action flick, "Oblivion," a collaboration with "Tron" director Joseph Kosinski based on the latter's unpublished graphic novel, making a significant splash at the box office this weekend. Set on Earth in 2077, following a nuclear decimation that was part of a last-ditch effort to fend off an invading alien army that had destroyed the moon, "Oblivion" tracks a restless drone mechanic (Cruise) who's overseeing matters in preparation for the resettlement to one of Saturn's moons of what has survived of humankind.

It's a gorgeous-looking blend of several dystopian greatest hits, such as "The Matrix," "Total Recall," and "The Island." Yet "Oblivion" also echoes a few smaller movies. So for those seeking either a cinematic aperitif to "Oblivion" or a comfy home video capper to a sci-fi double-header, check out 2009's "Moon," the directorial debut of Duncan Jones, who earlier this year was announced as the director of the film adaptation of the Warcraft video game series, taking over for Sam Raimi.

A superlative showcase for Sam Rockwell, "Moon" centers on Sam Bell, a subcontractor astronaut nearing the end of a three-year stint on a lunar mining station. With chronic communications problems limiting contact with his wife and young daughter back home to only occasional recorded messages, Sam's only real-time "human" interaction comes by way of GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), the artificially intelligent robot who prepares his meals and helps him oversee the base. When Sam has an accident and then discovers a crashed rover with another Sam Bell, however, he begins to wonder which one of them is a clone, and what that means for both his life back home and their mission at large.

"Oblivion" is slightly more meditative than most films of its ilk, but it also has to pay off a certain quotient of action. "Moon," on the other hand, is much more a character study and snapshot of psychological unraveling -- but still an occasionally cheeky one. When viewers are introduced to Sam, running on a treadmill, he's sporting a T-shirt that reads, "Wake me when it's quitting time." Shaving and otherwise cleaning up for his big trip home, he submits to a haircut that summons amusing memories of "Wayne's World's" famous "Suck Kut" sequence. Later, when Sam relaxes, watching old sitcom episodes, "Mary Tyler Moore" is shown to be labeled "aspirational lifestyles."

The two movies have plenty of similarities, however -- enough to reasonably cast the striking "Moon" as a towheaded younger cousin of "Oblivion." Despite the budgetary gap (Jones's movie was budgeted at a modest $5 million), both films have a consciously clean and at times downright spare production design. Joseph Trapanese and M83's hypnotic electronic music for "Oblivion" even plays like a catchier, pumped-up version of composer Clint Mansell's metronomic "Moon" score. Most notably, however, each film, in at least a broad sense, strikes a certain cautionary note. Whether in clones or drones, they both see some danger in embracing a future too quickly and blindly.

See the trailer for 'Moon':