The term reboot is one that’s becoming more and more familiar to film buffs, a frankly irritating high concept notion that implies Hollywood fat-cats seeking to wring the life out of franchises, rather than adhere to any noble creative impulse.

Only this month we see both Star Trek and Terminator following Batman and Bond down the ctrl-alt-delete path on DVD, while the promise of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes reinvention has fans of the risible reaching for the popcorn.

Amidst all this comes Moon, the debut picture from British director Duncan Jones. Rather than looking to reboot, Jones has tried the opposite – perform a system reinstall on the sci-fi genre. Jones has no time for the Red Bull-tinged pyrotechnics of modern sci-fi, instead he’s drawn on the timeless, thoughtful, brooding quality that marked films like 2001: A Space Odyssey out as genre classics. Smart, human, touching and expansive, Moon is every bit as impressive as the films that Jones so openly chose to pay homage to.

With moon-based mining now able to provide the earth with all the energy it needs, technician Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) mans the moon base alone and, aided by the Hal-like computer Gerty (suavely voiced by Kevin Spacey), manages the flow of raw material back to the planet.

Nearing the end of his 3-year contract and struggling with the isolation and his slowly failing health, Sam begins to look forward to returning home to his wife and child. After a routine check on the mines ends in disaster, Sam comes to in the infirmary, having seemingly been out cold for some time.

Returning to the site of the incident, Sam finds another person in the wreckage – which turns out to be him, or at perhaps a clone of himself. Having had only had Gerty to talk to for some time, socialising proves a problem, and the two Sams struggle to co-exist. But as the ice thaws, the pair slowly begin to uncover the sinister reasons behind their bizarre co-existence and the truth about their lunar tenure.

As mentioned, Jones doesn’t hide his love for films like 2001 – the set design and pacing are instantly recognisable, but rather than impose a template on the film, it puts you at a comfortable ease which allows the story to flourish. The boredom, isolation and antiseptic atmosphere create a mental space for Sam Rockwell to thrive, as the Sams go through a number of different stages of deterioration before ultimately coming to terms with the bizarre situation they find themselves in.

Despite often playing two parts at the same time, both he and director Jones make it seemless and an utterly natural relationship that carries the film to its conclusion. Moon succeeds as it walks the line between the reality and illusion, smartly flipping the perspective of both the characters and the viewer, weaving the sensory-deprived paranoia in with the blurred reality of the Sams’ miserable lives on the moon.

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Moon is smart, fresh, timeless and totally entrancing. For a debut picture, and one made on such a relatively small budget, it’s effortlessly grandiose and expertly executed – its design is flawless, from the classic 70s space station chic to the perfectly pitched atmospheric soundtrack. Even the bountiful crop of extras fit the bill, setting a benchmark for what can and should be offered on a standard-def single disc. All in all, it’s hard to go wrong with Moon.

Rating: 15

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey

Directed by: Duncan Jones 

Extras: Commentary, featurettes, short film, Q&As, trailers

Sections TV