Moonfall (2022) poster

Moonfall (2022)

Rating:


Germany/China. 2022.

Crew

Director – Roland Emmerich, Screenplay – Spenser Cohen, Roland Emmerich & Harald Kloser, Producers – Roland Emmerich & Harald Kloser, Photography – Robby Baumgartner, Music – Harald Kloser & Thomas Wander, Visual Effects Supervisor – Peter G. Travers, Visual Effects – DNeg (Supervisor – Stephane Paris), Framestore (Supervisor – Robert Winter), Lola VFX (Supervisor – Edson Williams), Pixomondo (Supervisor – Arek Komorowski), Proof, Real By Fake (Supervisor – Rainer Gombos) & Scanline VFX (Supervisor – Lauren Taillefer), Special Effects Supervisor – Guillaume Murray, Production Design – Kirk M. Petruccelli. Production Company – Centropolis Entertainment/Street Entertainment/AGC Studios.

Cast

Patrick Wilson (Brian Harper), Halle Berry (Jacinda Fowler), John Bradley (KC Houseman), Charlie Plummer (Sonny Harper Lopez), Kelly Yu (Michelle), Michael Peña (Tom Lopez), Carolina Bartczak (Brenda Lopez), Eme Ikwuakor (Doug Davidson), Zayn Maloney (Jimmy), Ava Weiss (Nikki Lopez), Hazel Nugent (Lauren Lopez), Chis Sandford (Mosley), Jonathan Maxwell Silver (Johansen), Stephen Bogaert (NASA Director Albert Hutchings), Kathleen Fee (Elaine Houseman), Donald Sutherland (Holdenfield), Frank Schorpion (General Jenkins), Maxim Roy (Sergeant Gabriella Auclair), Tyrone Benskin (Judge)


Plot

In 2011, NASA astronaut Brian Harper is on a satellite repair mission aboard the space shuttle Endeavor when it is struck by a strange anomalous mass of non-terrestrial origin and a fellow astronaut killed. In the subsequent official enquiry, Brian insists he saw something but what happened is blamed on technical error and he scapegoated with the mission’s commander Jacinda Fowler failing to support his account. In the present day, a disgraced Brian is giving children’s tours at an observatory. Crank conspiracy theorist KC Houseman sneaks in to see Brian and gives him papers showing that the Moon is getting closer, which he claims is because The Moon is really an alien megastructure. NASA publicly confirms that The Moon’s orbit has changed. This causes massive tsunamis and wild weather all around the world. Jacinda is made NASA director and recruits Brian and KC as crew to launch the mothballed Endeavor. They set out to investigate the megastructure at the core of the Moon and the alien nanotech swarm there that kills any evidence of human life.


German director Roland Emmerich has gained a reputation as a director who specialises in epic-sized spectacle and destruction. After making several films in his native Germany, Emmerich emerged onto the world stage with Universal Soldier (1992) and Stargate (1994). He then had the massive success of Independence Day (1996) that was the No 1 grossing film of its year, It made Emmerich’s name as a director of spectacle and mass destruction.

Emmerich subsequently went onto bigger and bigger special effects vehicles such as Godzilla (1998), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), 10,000 B.C. (2008), 2012 (2009) and Independence Day: Resurgence (2016). The 2010s has been more of a slowdown for Emmerich as he has ventured away from genre works and his trademark mass destruction spectacle for historical works like Anonymous (2011), the action film White House Down (2013), the true-life gay rights drama Stonewall (2015) and the war film Midway (2019). (See below for Roland Emmerich’s other films).

Moonfall was a film that Emmerich had been promising since at least the mid-2010s. Originally planned to go ahead with various US studios, Emmerich brought back the script and mounted the production with funding from Germany and China. Due to Covid restrictions creating a filming to shoot in international locations, Emmerich and his crew shot the entire film in Montreal instead necessitating the construction of 135 sets. After completion, the film ended up being shuffled around various theatrical release dates due to Covid closures. It finally appeared in February of 2022 but only opened in second place behind Jackass Forever (2022), earning only $9.9 million on its opening weekend, a total of $50 million worldwide against a budget of around $140 million.

John Bradley, Patrick Stewart and Halle Berry launch in the shuttle in Moonfall (2022)
(l to r) John Bradley, Patrick Stewart and Halle Berry launch in the shuttle

It is not long into Moonfall before Roland Emmerich makes a beeline for one of his two main preoccupations – fringe science Conspiracy Theories. (His other preoccupation with Mass Destruction takes a little longer to turn up, showing surprising restraint on Emmerich’s part). We have John Bradley as a crank conspiracy theorist promulgating the idea that the Moon is really hollow and an alien megastructure. This was inspired by Emmerich’s reading of Who Built the Moon? (2005) by Alan Butler and Christopher Knight in which they theorise supposedly by using mathematics that The Moon is a megastructure built by aliens for the purpose of seeding humanity. Classic Emmerich line from John Bradley: “It’s highly likely our Moon was built by aliens.”

Fringe science theories have appeared throughout Emmerich’s work – Independence Day took place at Area 51, both Stargate and 10,000 B.C. buy into Erich von Daniken’s Ancient Astronauts theories. 2012 was based on the fringe theory claims about the Mayan Long Count Calendar predicting the end of the world, while The Day After Tomorrow was based on a non-fiction book making claims about a lost ancient civilisation by conspiracy theory radio host Art Bell and claimed UFO abductee Whitley Strieber. Anonymous was based on the conspiracy theory that Shakespeare didn’t write his own plays. 2012 even works in a conspiracy theory crank character played by Woody Harrelson and this has one played by John Bradley as a main character.

Roland Emmerich films have a fairly creative interpretation of science – most of them fall into being examples of Bad Science. The idea of the Moon coming closer to Earth is played with a certain degree of plausibility – we get lots of scenes with massive tsunamis and with atmosphere and objects being dragged up into the shared gravity corridor. We also see a massive debris field and rocks raining down from what would be the Moon being torn apart by gravitational force. All of this seems credible in terms of what would happen in actuality. The main issue is that the mass destruction depicted would be far more devastating in actuality where the increased gravity would start to tear apart the crust of both the Earth and the Moon, eventually leaving The Moon as a ring of rocks in orbit around the shattered remains of the Earth, which would be in no state for human habitation. There is also the somewhat ridiculous notion at the end that the defeat of the alien nanoswarm will cause the Moon’s gravitation effects to instantly stop and The Moon to retreat a mere couple of minutes later.

The shuttle passes through the nanoswarm in Moonfall (2022)
The shuttle passes through the nanoswarm

Things get far more ridiculous when we get to the idea of The Moon as an alien megastructure. Emmerich and his co-writers plausibly deal with the logical issue common to various Hollow Earth stories – a noted recent example being Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) – in that gravity would cause a hollowed out sphere the size of a planet to quickly collapses, which they deal with by coming up with the idea of a massive rotating support structure. BUT this causes problems. First of all, if the Moon were hollow, this would show up in scientific measurements where the Moon would record far less mass than it actually does.

The film also claims that the alien megastructure inside the Moon has a white dwarf at the centre. A white dwarf is a star that has collapsed but does not have enough mass to form a black hole. The material of a white dwarf is super-dense – imagine the mass of the sun condensed to about the size of the Earth. If there were a gravitational mass of such size in orbit around the Earth, this would have noticeable effects – it would be akin to having another body equal to the gravitic mass of the sun in Earth orbit. This would be evident in far more than just scientific measurements, it would be observable to the average person – ie. the Earth would actually be orbiting the Moon rather than vice versa.

What I did like about Moonfall, if you can kind of tune out the bad science, is that it takes a massive conceptual grasp. I was expecting to see just a regular Disaster Movie about the Moon colliding with the Earth but the latter half expands out in unexpected directions. It talks about ideas that no other science-fiction film has dealt with yet – alien megastructures (unless you count the Halo videogames); nanotech swarms of von Neumann machines; the idea of galactic seeding by precursor civilisations. It mentions Dyson spheres – the first I believe that has turned up in any science-fiction film – the idea of turning all available mass in a solar system into a habitable sphere enclosing a star (although when it comes the Moon, the shuttle crew have to journey only a few thousand kilometers down rather than several million, making it far too small a distance away from the white dwarf to act as a habitable sphere – a Dyson sphere needs to be in the so-called Goldilocks Zone, the area around a star where life can be sustained ie. around about where the Earth orbits). If Emmerich has brought some decent scientific advisors or hard science-fiction writers on board, he might have made a classic.

The Moon nears the Earth in Moonfall (2022)
The Moon nears the Earth

The rest of the time, Moonfall feels like a Roland Emmerich film as usual. It is a surprising way into the film before the mass destruction scenes kick in but when they do, Emmerich delivers the goods. The film’s showoff set-piece is the shuttle launch amid massive tsunamis crashing in between the city streets and water spouts being dragged up into the air with the tiny shuttle dwarfed in the midst, grazing the tip of the oncoming waves as it lifts off. There are other spectacular scenes with the lander pursued through the interior of the megastructure by the nanotech swarm and the climactic scenes with the group struggling to get into the shelter of the mountain amid debris raining down, including entire ships and trains being tossed about and bridges collapsing.

Amid the mass destruction spectacle, the human element barely gets a look in. Halle Berry is top-billed, although Patrick Wilson is far more the protagonist of the show than she is. In the past I have wondered what the acclaim that Berry received was all about and here she remains characteristically neurotic and could be a piece of wallpaper once the action gets into orbit. Patrick Wilson rises to become the hero of the hour with resolute intent, although has most of the show stolen out from under him by an entertaining John Bradley.

Roland Emmerich’s other films are The Noah’s Ark Principle (1984), Making Contact/Joey (1986), Ghost Chase (1987) and Moon 44 (1990), all made in his native Germany. Emmerich then had a big breakthrough in the West with Universal Soldier (1992) and subsequently began to specialise in lavish effects-driven spectacle with the likes of Stargate (1994), Independence Day (1996), Godzilla (1998), the non-genre American War of Independence film The Patriot (2000), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), 10,000 BC (2008), the non-genre Anonymous (2011) about the historical conspiracy over the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, the end of the world film 2012 (2009), the action film White House Down (2013), the true-life gay rights drama Stonewall (2015), Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) and the war film Midway (2019). Emmerich has also produced The High Crusade (1994), the tv series The Visitor (1997), The Thirteenth Floor (1999), Eight Legged Freaks (2002) and Hell (2011).


Trailer here


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