It’s a fine day to see a film called Moon, what with it being the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11. This is the début movie of dirctor Duncan Jones; was made on a relatively low budget ($2,500,000); is more intelligent than many a film of its type; and, in the end, falls frustratingly short of being great.

In the future, clean energy is abundant, thanks to the mining of lunar rocks. Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell) is the sole human crew member of an automated mining base. He’s on a three-year contract, but his live satellite link to Earth is down so the only company he has is the ship’s computer Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey), and a few plants. One could forgive him for having a little cabin fever, and it’s perhaps no surprise that Sam starts to have hallucinations, even if he doesn’t like to admit it.

There are just two weeks of Sam’s tenure to go when disaster strikes. He’s out investigating a fault with one of the mining machines when he experiences another hallucination, causing him to crash his lunar rover. He wakes up in the base infirmary, a little worse for wear, but tests reveal that he’ll be back on his feet in a few days; till then, he has to stay indoors. But Sam is impatient to get back to work, especially with that same mining robot continuing to malfunction. He contrives a way to get Gerty to allow him outside, and goes back to the site of his accident — to find another buggy crashed there, with someone who looks very like him inside. Sam takes the man back to the base, and asks Gerty who he is…

We then cut to the infirmary, where a pasty-faced, injured Sam wakes up in bed while a healthy-looking Sam stands over him. From hereon in, there’s wonderful ambiguity as to who’s who: pasty Sam is the mysterious stranger rescued from the second LRV (isn’t he?), yet he says he’s been at the base for three years. What’s indisputable is that there are two Sams, but neither behaves in a way that makes immediate sense, given what has gone before; and Gerty seems remarkably unconcerned about this strange situation.

In fact, the computer appears to spill the beans willingly about halfway through the film; the rest of the movie fills in the gaps, in a roundabout way. This is where things get frustrating: it’s interesting to work out what’s going on; but, once you have, there’s not much that stays behind. Solving the puzzle closes off imaginative possibilities (compare with, say, Franklyn, which opens them up). And there are ethical issues which are touched on briefly, but never really dealt with.

On a more aesthetic level, it’s good enough. The budget shows, but not embarassingly so. Rockwell does well with his part(s), and one can sense Spacey recording his HAL-esque lines with relish. There are some nice touches, such as Sam sitting in an old wingback chair wearing his slippers while Gerty cuts his hair; and some that don’t work so well, such as there being nothing to watch on TV but stuff like Bewitched and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Sam having Chesney Hawkes as his alarm call (amusing, yes, but not very likely, I’d suggest).

So, Moon is a good movie — even a good science fiction movie — though not a great one. Still, it’s a good start to Jones’s film career, and he’s a director worth keeping an eye on.