Review: Moonfall

New space disaster movie MoonfallIt comes with important warnings prominently displayed. It’s first and foremost a film made by Roland Emmerich (a shameless CGI Merchant who hasn’t produced a sharp picture since the Clinton Administration). For those who are attentive to such matters, the second tip-off is Harald Kloser’s writing credit. He previously wrote two of Emmerich’s most silly films. 20122009 and head-slappingly absurd 10,000 BC (2008). Emmerich’s signature digital-effects overload is also evident in the trailer. The movie’s skies become darkened by chunks tumbling in space debris, that can be mistaken for large intergalactic bugs.

The actual film shows the director repeating his self, which is never a good sign. There are again sad parents and winsome children, crumbling real estate, and an enormous tidal surge. This time, though, the movie’s rampant computerization and subpar lighting design make whole scenes look fake, and cliché shaky-cam photography is a recurring annoyance.

It begins with a nod to the Sandra Bullock film of 2013. Gravity. Our crew is in space along with three US astronauts, Harper (Patrick Wilson), Fowler(Halle Berry), Marcus (Frank Fiola). They are both clambering about outside the ship, when an explosion of junk from space hurls Marcus. Now, fast forward 10 years. We learn that Harper (commander of the ill-fated mission) was later disgracefully booted by NASA.

At this point, we have made contact with a Space nut called Houseman (John Bradley), from Game of ThronesHouseman is a fast food clerk, science enthusiast and collector of conspiracies theories. Houseman has deduced something that no one else in the known universe has noticed—that the moon has somehow been knocked off its orbit, and we’re all gonna die.

Fowler is the second survivor from the mission that was blown up at the start of the movie. With a cute little boy, she’s now an important figure at NASA. Fowler, amidst all of the frightening stuff happening around the globe, is promoted by her boss (on his way out of town). Her main job, which is to impose exposition upon us, does not get any more complicated.

There is the typical Emmerichian flood of negative stuff, and then there’s always Emmerichian slide of poor dialogue.

Only a few people know what you are about to witness.

“It is doing something to mega-structure’s power core.”

“Security here is very tight. “Call when you’re close.”

Eventually we learn that the moon is hollow—that it was built by aliens. Emmerich visits the source of old sci-fi plot device and learns that there was once a rebellion by an artificial intelligence. It refused to be slaved by humans. Skynet is not mentioned in this context, but you get the idea. We are told that the conflict continues. It’s not just a conflict between biological life forms, but there is also the resident monster. (If only it were better-designed—it looks like a long black armored space snake, and it’s not all that interesting to behold.)

It’s not surprising that this picture was financed with a large amount of CGI (roughly $146 million), but very little has been used for script-polishing. Because the film was funded independently, it required outside help. This is likely why Emmerich’s associates were so kind in name-checking their backers. A character refers to “our SpaceX friends” while another states, “The Chinese have offered us their prototype.” Huayi Brothers Media, a Beijing-based production firm, also joined the fray to assist. Do you think any of these organizations would be interested in helping with a sequel to the film? Even though Emmerich movies are often big-ticket sellers at international box offices, it is hard to see that question being raised in this case.