Roland Emmerich is back with a brand new disaster movie epic — the very genre that has been synonymous with his name since his then-groundbreaking Independence Day in 1996. And those who are familiar with his brand of disaster movies know more or less what to expect here: large-scale destructions (usually involving iconic buildings), lots of special effects, stock characters and obligatory human drama.
Then, there’s the importance of suspension of disbelief upon watching Roland Emmerich’s disaster movie. The kind that requires you to leave your brain at the door, sit back and enjoy the popcorn ride. Well, for decades, some of his past disaster movies ranging from the aforementioned Independence Day to The Day After Tomorrow and even to a certain extent, 2012 and the otherwise needless Independence Day: Resurgence contain enough guilty-pleasure entertainment.
But not this time, as co-writer and director Roland Emmerich hurtles an orbit too far in his latest sci-fi disaster (both literally and figuratively) called Moonfall. Even the title is as literal as it gets, where the story is about the moon which we know of has mysteriously drifted out of its orbit. Time is running out as the moon approaches closer to planet Earth and needless to say, major disaster events from earthquakes to tidal waves and meteor showers are about to destroy mankind for good.
Of course, no Roland Emmerich’s disaster movies would be complete with a saviour or more. And in the case of Moonfall, the saviours in question include a disgraced former astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson), a NASA executive-in-charge Jo Fowler (Halle Berry) and a conspiracy theorist K.C. Houseman (John Bradley).
Believe it or not, Moonfall turns out to be an independently-produced Hollywood blockbuster at a whopping cost of US$146 million budget. Special effects are adequate but not spectacular. The latter is particularly evident since destruction scenes involved buildings and vehicles have already been done to death by today’s standard. The climactic outer-space sequence has some potential here but Emmerich’s attempt to incorporate 2001: A Space Odyssey-like intergalactic journey is too far-fetched for its own good. As in why the moon goes bonkers in the first place and the subsequent backstory that tries its best to fill us in, is truly a what-the-heck-am-I-watching moment.
Moonfall also overstays its welcome with lots of fillers that could have been trimmed off altogether (i.e. the film’s otherwise 2-hour-plus running time would benefit better with 90 or 100 minutes max). And by fillers, I mean most of the earthbound sequences involved Brian’s troubled son, Sonny (Charlie Plummer) and the rest of the characters. There are many times the subplot seriously tested my patience like why on earth that Sonny and a Chinese exchange student named Michelle (Kelly Yu) think it’s a good idea to admire the view of a space shuttle’s takeoff in the midst of an incoming gravitational tidal wave? And how is it safer to lay low in the Colorado mountains instead of keeping going as far as they could? Suspension of disbelief is one thing but that doesn’t mean it has to be entirely devoid of common sense.
Or maybe because Roland Emmerich made a mistake taking his film seriously. If only Moonfall works like a cheesy B-grade sci-fi disaster, that would be a different story altogether. Another thing that bothers me the most is Robby Baumgartner’s overall cinematography. It looks dim regardless of daylight or nighttime as if the film has exhausted most of the budget on the special effects and sacrificed the importance of lighting.
I feel pity for the cast too, particularly Patrick Wilson and Halle Berry, where both of them clearly deserved better roles than what they got in Moonfall. I can see they try their best to make their respective roles worthwhile but problem is, Emmerich’s penchant for bad and stilted dialogues made me hard to care about the fate of their characters. Neither of them has a distinct personality, say someone like Will Smith’s cocky military pilot role as Captain Steven Hiller in Independence Day.
John Bradley’s supporting turn as the nerdy conspiracy theorist K.C. Houseman is downright annoying while the rest of the cast, namely Charlie Plummer and Michael Peña as Sonny and Sonny’s stepfather respectively are all forgettable.
Moonfall even ends with a possible hint of a sequel. It was something that should have been left alone as a one-off film. Besides, Roland Emmerich previously stated he was originally intended to make a trilogy out of it. Well, to quote from one of the character’s dialogues in Moonfall, “God helps us all”.