Duncan Jones’ fourth feature, the long gestating twinkle in his eye/ pseudo Moon sequel Mute, is finally set to make its Netflix debut on Friday 23rd February. This British/German sci-fi production, filmed in Berlin, has been a passion project of Jones’ for some time and one that has careered from pipedream to planned and temporarily postponed. But when potent concepts flower within the minds of passionate artists they have a tendency to materialise in some form or another; whatever the cost. In Mute’s case, due to the evolution of online streaming triggering an industry metamorphosis, the film will mostly bypass cinemas* and arrive in the homes of Netflix subscribers on Friday 23rd February. What is known of the narrative is not much beyond a log-line with morsels extracted from myriad sources to form a patchwork understanding of what the story might be.
Prior to the deliberately info-light but thrilling trailer which landed on 30th January, all the general public really knew of Mute was that it’s a “spiritual sequel” to Moon, set in the same universe, starring Alexander Skarsgard as silent bartender Leo Beiler, alongside Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, Seyneb Saleh and Sam Rockwell, returning to the role of Moon protagonist Sam Bell. Judging by the design concepts/ graphic novel images, Jones’ own admittance and the bleeding obvious, Mute is inspired by Blade Runner. Yet after viewing the trailer what has become obvious is that the story seems more multi-character focused and emanating a mucky municipal otherness that sets it apart amongst most other modern Sci-Fi. This contradictorily, makes Mute seem more Blade Runner than Denis Villenueve’s burnt umber/clerical retro lathered follow-up.
Jones has infused a smoky neon patina, bolstered by grubby Noir/Edward Hopper like sets and locations which, despite seeming neon snaked, lack the wistful nods that saturate other modern sci-fi franchises. By design, both Moon and (less so) Source Code seem cut from the same cloth as 70s/ 80s dystopian/ space features such as: Silent Running, Soylent Green, Logan’s Run, THX 1138 and Outland. Mute seems more like a lost 90s produced Blade Runner sequel, leaked from another dimension: inspired by the cadaverous facets of cyberpunk where raped cyborgs and ravaged goths wilt in brown puddles. The film appears whetted with steam-punk paraphernalia and occupied by supporting characters in tattered, brassy fashions sporting high tech devices. Along with industrial/early 90s Manga influences and spats of those gumshoe led Raymond Chandler/ Marlowe novels (check out the 40s film style Mute poster designs on Jones’ twitter account @ManMadeMoon) that also inspired Blade Runner. While the writing of William Gibson, J.G Ballard and Harlan Ellison also comes to mind.
Maybe Mute will kick start a Cyberpunk revival. The subgenre/culture flourished from 60s/ 70s literature (penned by the aforementioned) into film following Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in 1982 then withered into oblivion via early 90s techno which absorbed some facets then shat them back out again as neutered, unwieldly analogue/primitive digital mainframe thrillers like Sneakers, Hackers and The Net, until totally evaporating. A momentary revival by The Matrix materialised in 1999 before Cyberpunk was rapidly re-twatted into insignificance by its cumbersome back-to-back follow-ups.
As well as the Blade Runner similarities, Mute also looks like it could be the art/product of pre-millennial paranoia, pre-dating The Matrix to sit (for better or worse) alongside the likes of gloomy dystopian 90s sci-fi like Dark City, Twelve Monkeys, Strange Days, Hardware, Wedlock or (gulp) Split Second and Johnny Mnemonic. Since Jones’ original script draft in 2003, these Cyberpunk/ techno connotations may have all but frayed. To make Mute more relevant for modern audiences, references to/reflections of present politics or technological advances and setbacks could have manifested in Jones’ and co-writer Michael Robert Johnson’s screenplay subconsciously, been woven into subtext throughout its evolution and budded into metaphors or angrily shoe-horned.
Moon addressed environmental trepidation in its pre-credit prologue, painting the picture of a planet on the cusp of depletion, so what will its “follow-up” have to say? Jones has been publicly mooting his Mute concept, initially as a standalone project then more of a sequel, since the latter’s publicity tour back in 2010. He has kept its fire burning in interviews and via social media, so the “fictional” world that informs its narrative surely must have advanced. Maybe it will be more about the subtext or/and what it says about the present instead of the future or past?
Sci-fi/ film fans’ anticipations are being continuously whetted with leaked design concepts (Mute-land currency), graphic novel illustrations, tweeted gifs and snaps of early script drafts but no one outside of the select production knows what Jones’ film truly holds or how/ if it has been updated with contemporary relevance. Are Jones’ political interests incorporated? His much warranted Twitter based Trump thumping and views on Russian “meddling” in America’s domestic policy suggests a heated curiosity. And what does the role of a mute, white, working class male protagonist have to say about gender/sexuality in today’s society or represent in light of the recent abundance of film/ TV industry sex attack scandals?
Some brows might be locked in permanent furrow by the “elephant in the room”, Jones’ much maligned third film, Warcraft, but there is no denying he has proved a potent director with more focused, arguably intelligent, personal projects.
Could the fact that Mute will be mostly bypassing cinemas suggest it could be a continuation of the general dawn of streaming services adopting mid-budget productions? Prevalent negative opinions of other Netflix debuted sci-fi/ fantasies (Bright and The Cloverfield Paradox) could suggest otherwise. Another facet that maybe should also be taken into consideration is how Mute will perform in the shadow of Blade Runner 2049: the even more belated yet predominantly revered sequel to the film that Jones has cited as its main inspiration. But sci-fi fans are an ardent bunch and should be happy enough with the fact that Mute will finally see the light of day, regardless of where it lands, in a Jones helmed incarnation.
Only time will tell and we can pontificate until blue in the face or brain bubbles burst over our bum fluff encrusted, biscuit crumb clogged keyboards. One thing’s for certain is that Jones has proved himself as a striking sci-fi director with an eye for the pertinent and a (mostly) brilliant track record behind him. One cannot help but hope and expect that given Moon and Source Code, Mute will follow suit and be more Blade Runner than Judge Dredd (95) or more The Matrix than Johnny Mnemonic. Maybe it will bypass expectations and be nothing whatsoever like the aforementioned but its own bulbous, Noir Cyberpunk hybrid and the once whispered notion of a third film in the franchise will be not so quietly reignited. Roll on Friday 23rd Feb, and we shall all see.
Mute premieres on Netflix on 23rd February and…
*The film will also get a limited theatrical release at selected Curzon cinemas. Hurrah for Curzon! Now go and book tickets!