Isn’t it wonderful when a premise is so simple and yet so compelling? In Moonfall the moon is breaking out of orbit for reasons unknown and will crash into the earth.
Disaster and high stakes: ticked! Special effects whizzbangery? Absolutely! Daft as a bag of frogs on holiday in the Caribbean? Yup, you got it.
So why does Moonfall, from disaster aficionado Roland Emmerich (Stargate, Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, White House Down), fail to make much impact?
It's not for lack of money on the screen. Indeed, Moonfall is one of the most expensive independently produced films of all time, with hundreds of millions of funding pulled in from a variety of sources (including $40 million China super-investors, the Huayi Brothers Media Corp.).
You certainly get plenty of bang for your buck. Moon + Earth = utter chaos. Instead, the nature of a self-penned script free from studio supervision has left Emmerich’s movie with plenty of pock-marked craters that take the shine off of it.
What Is Moonfall About?
Super smart space nerd K. C. Houseman (John Bradley, Game of Thrones) is a man discredited and ignored for his conspiracy theories about the moon (more on that later). Yet his secretly gleaned figures show that our familiar satellite in the sky is rapidly losing orbit.
He desperately enlists the help of disgraced former astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson, Insidious) who was scapegoated for claiming a lethal spacewalk incident was due to a mysterious swarming black substance. Are the two connected?
If you are thinking we are in Don’t Look Up territory then guess again.
Moonfall Official Trailer
The speed at which events whip along in the first 30 minutes or so doesn’t do the word ‘breakneck’ justice.
Halle Berry, as Harper’s old pal Jocinda Fowler – who didn’t back up his version of events after the ‘black swarm’ disaster – goes from reluctant confidant through to head of NASA in all about 10 minutes.
The moon goes from ‘a bit close’ to causing mega-tsunamis and gravity distortions faster than you can blink. We don’t even have time for the breakdown of society bar some drop in gun-toting antagonists who do a car chase and then blip out of existence.
Is Moonfall Worth Watching?
Emmerich gets plenty of huge-scale destruction moving up front seemingly to get it out of the way to make room for the second half of the movie where things, um, take a turn.
I won’t go into this purely so as to not ringfence your own experience, but it proves more nuts than even Houseman’s theory and certainly makes for a shift in tone.
A hastily cobbled together space shuttle journey later (you know how NASA leave those things lying around, right?) and Bradley and Wilson have their hands full with space-based lunacy. 2001 it isn’t, but neither is it the Earth shattering apocalypse that the preceding act of the movie had prepared us for.
Aside from the spectacle of the piece, Bradley is great as a hard-done-by almost nut job and performs admirably in carrying the film. His character is brimming with personality, which is more than can be said for the archetypal roles filled by Berry and Harper.
A lack of decent characterisation combined with the kind of pacing that front loads and back loads heavily is ultimately what weighs down the middle of the film.
Moonfall is a hard one to pin down as there is a good mixture of exciting elements in there. A restirring of the pot might have produced tastier results because the leftover mouthfeel is one of chewing something into submission.
Yet it’s a shame that Moonfall’s eventual box office bomb status will likely discourage such big and bold non-studio based kerblam movies.
If anything we need more movies like Moonfall; so long as they land smoothly rather than obliterate their target.
Words by Mike Record