Smith’s verdict: Tanner Smith reviews Kim Risi’s The Man in the MoonJune 17, 2012
By Tanner Smith
The Man in the Moon, made in association with the UCA Digital Filmmaking Program, had already caught my interest with its clever teaser trailer, featuring a strange, gray landscape with what looks like a golf cart making its way across, as the camera pans up to the sky … only to reveal the Earth. Yes, we are in outer space, the “golf cart” is a lunar rover, and this landscape is on the moon. It’s a great teaser, and the title suggests … well, take a guess.
This 20-minute short film is an imaginative, well-put-together science-fiction story that starts out as a futuristic prison fable and heads into different, even more interesting, territory once it unleashes that always-reliable moment in which a character digs for quite a time and then suddenly hears an unexpected THUD. (And of course, there’s another THUD to be sure of what he heard.)
The character is named Dave; he’s part of a new prison program that sends convicts into complete isolation up to the moon. As one of those convicts, he is completely alone on the moon … or so he thinks. When digging for experimental dirt or stones (there’s a machine in his prison that somehow brings it back to Earth for experimentation — I’m not quite sure how that works, but oh well), he digs a little deeper and then…you guessed it — THUD.
Dave (Lynnsee Provence) discovers a doorway leading to the underground lair of the Man in the Moon, which is actually somewhat welcoming—it looks like the inside of a suburban house…in the 1960s, which makes things kind of unnerving and unsure. But the Man in the Moon, named Manuel (Leonard Schlientz), is a kindly old man with a generous hospitality. He takes Dave in, making him feel at home, but there seems to be something more that Manuel has in mind. For example, what is inside that forbidden room right beside the back bedroom?
The more mysterious The Man in the Moon gets, the more intriguing it is. I apologize for giving away what Dave finds beneath the lunar surface, but I stopped immediately at the plot device of the “forbidden room.” There’s a lot of creativity flowing through the story and I was interested throughout, to the point where I didn’t care much for questions such as how does that machine in Dave’s prison work, and where does Manuel get all of his food if he’s been secretly living in the moon?
The film has a nice visual style. The moon setting is terrific. I hear the scenes taking place on the moon landscape were actually filmed on a quarry with color digitally added in post-production to give the illusion of moon rocks, space dust, and emptiness of outer space. The result is very effective. Also of note are the interiors—Dave’s prison and Manuel’s home. Each is different, but interesting. Dave’s home has a rustic-if-retro look, suitable for an isolated prison on the moon, and Manuel’s home looks as if it was stuck in a ‘60s time warp—the appropriate colors and props really stand out.
An interesting story idea, a continuing guessing feel, and good performances from both Provence and Schlientz makes for a pretty good film. How much did I appreciate The Man in the Moon? Of the twelve short films I saw the night it premiered at the 6th Annual Little Rock Film Festival, this is the one that I was most fond of when the night was over.
Smith’s Verdict: ★★★1/2