It is the future and Earth's energy problems have been solved thanks to pioneering technology which harvests energy from the Sun through a base on the far side of the Moon. This only requires one person to oversee, and they must stay vigilant and take care of operations for the full three years that each posting there lasts. The current man in charge is Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), and he is looking forward to returning to Earth after almost the full term away from his young family, a longing which has been compounded by the fact that the live communication feed has been down since an accident some time ago. But is the isolation getting to Sam? Or could there be someone else up there with him?
Moon was a smart little science fiction film that landed apparently from nowhere, but went on to become something of a favourite with those who did see it, all deeply impressed by its skillful creation of not only the visuals, but the emotional loneliness that the main character suffers. In spite of its clinical rendering, this was no heartless speculative fiction, as it portrayed a definite human need for companionship while registering that people can also be the source of great hardship - there are those, for example, who would plonk a man on the Moon for three years a vast distance away from everybody else in the human race.
Well, there are in this film at any rate. The director was Duncan Jones, who caused great interest at the time this was released not so much for his directorial talents but for being the son of David Bowie - many enjoyed pointing out the sci-fi stylings of dad's work and how they connected to Moon. But put that to one side and you have a movie that has obviously been thought over by its creators - Nathan Parker wrote the screenplay - to polish it to the highest standard. The effects shots for one thing are truly excellent, with miniatures mixed with computer graphics to impeccable levels of craftsmanship, and all in the service of the story, not simply wheeled on like novelty acts as too many effects-heavy movies tend to do.
But this would fall apart at the seams if it were not for the central performance, and Rockwell was not only superb on the character side, but technically as well. What happens is that Sam has been suffering what he half-believes are hallucinations of other people on the base, and one day while out attending to maintenance on the roving machinery outside he catches sight of someone standing on the lunar landscape, the shock of this causing him to crash. He wakes up in the infirmary, where the resident robot GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey in his silkiest tones) tells him he needs to recuperate. But what if Sam's replacement is here already to take over? And what if Sam's replacement is... Sam?
This leads to a host of simple-looking effects where the injured Sam is at first wary of his identical twin (identical apart from the damage, that is) but over the course of time begins to engage with him, offering us such ingenious scenes as one where both Sams play each other at table tennis, or actually get into a brawl with each other. The comparisons with 2001: A Space Odyssey were made at the time this came out, a film which inspired Bowie's first big hit, but the Stanley Kubrick film that Moon most resembles is The Shining with its protagonist being sent mad by being cut off from civilisation, the icy calm interrupted by bursts of activity and the deterioration of Sam marking his inability to escape from his "prison". However, where The Shining has a cynical, blackly humorous look at its characters, Jones takes a far more humane treatment, illustrating that loneliness is as much of what you have left behind as it is the situation you are presently in. Although the final lines indicate that Sam might have been better where he was if that's the reaction he gets. Music by Clint Mansell.
[Sony's Blu-ray has a wealth of special features, including two audio commentaries, two featurettes, Jones' first film (a short) and the trailer.]