When the moon leaves its orbit and begins a collision course towards Earth, two astronauts (Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson) and a conspiracy theorist (John Bradley) mount a desperate mission to discover the truth, and uncover an incredible celestial secret. Also stars Michael Pena, Charlie Plummer, Kelly Yu, and Donald Sutherland. Directed by Roland Emmerich.
Roland Emmerich, God bless him, still loves making epic sci-fi movies (like Independence Day and Stargate) and epic disaster movies (like 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow). For his latest cinematic effort, he seems to have wondered, why not do both? Moonfall mixes an alien conspiracy with an end-of-the-world storyline, and while it never reaches the heights of his films like Independence Day, it’s big, loud, ridiculous, and more fun than you expect it to be. For a movie like this, it’s really the best you can hope for. Being able to see it on a big TV in 4K, with Dolby Atmos blaring over the huge gaps in logic, really helps the viewing experience. I’ll let you decide whether that’s a good thing or not.
The premise is outlandish, and is pure B-movie sci-fi. The moon has left its orbit and is on a collision course for Earth, but – plot twist – the moon is actually an ancient alien space station, like the Death Star with a rocky, dusty shell. The moon doesn’t want to destroy Earth, but – plot twist again – an alien artificial intelligence has taken control of it and they are the ones who want mankind dead. So, NASA sends a team of astronauts to the moon to stop it before everyone dies, but – plot twist once again – the astronauts have all kinds of personal family issues at home, distracting their focus. If the plot sounds needlessly convoluted, trust me, it is. That’s part of the problem with Moonfall – there are so many unnecessary subplots and side missions, the narrative gets sidetracked with details that just don’t matter.
There’s an interesting concept here, with a mix of alien conspiracy and disaster movie elements. It certainly results in some fantastic visuals – if nothing else, the 4K disc, with Dolby Atmos sound, is a must for watching this at home. However, to construct the narrative of the film, the writing team of Emmerich, Harald Kloser, and Spenser Cohen fall back on way too many sci-fi clichés and rip-offs of other films. The Abyss, The Smoke Monster from LOST, The X-Files, Halo – they all get referenced in themes, visuals, and plot points. Emmerich even rips off his own films, which would be fine if he had improved on the ideas he swiped.
Although Moonfall is often fun to watch visually, nothing here seems particularly fresh. Patrick Wilson and Halle Berry are burdened with silly dialogue and paper-thin character development. For some reason, the characters will waste time arguing about family issues while the moon is coming down on top of them. Disaster movies have always mixed in subplots involving character relationships and conflicts, it’s a staple of the genre. However, the mayhem Emmerich unleashed in Independence Day, 2012, and The Day After Tomorrow had a sense of urgency because you cared about the characters involved. The script for Moonfall never allows Wilson or Berry to connect with the audience – in fact, they’re mostly unlikable.
Noticeably missing from Moonfall’s creative team is Dean Devlin, Emmerich’s long-time writing and producing partner. I can’t say he’s the reason why the script is so non-sensical, but he could have certainly helped. The movie opens much like Gravity, with a disaster hitting Wilson as he works on a satellite. Unlike Gravity, however, Wilson never bothers to communicate with NASA when things go wrong. He just wings it on his own. It’s a glaring lapse in logic, and it isn’t the only one. NASA decides to pull the space shuttle out of a museum and has it ready to fly to the moon in days, because that makes total sense. When NASA hits a glitch, however, they give up and everyone goes home to die, leaving Berry, Wilson and conspiracy theorist John Bradley (Game of Thrones) to launch the shuttle on their own. No one stays behind at NASA to communicate with them, in case they need a little help saving the world.
There’s really no need for the film to insult your intelligence so often, especially since it still manages to be entertaining, despite all the silliness. A second-year film student could have easily tightened up the script, like making Bradley’s character of KC Houseman an employee at NASA. It would have avoided a lot of needless scenes and dialogue, without ever changing the basics of the character.
The second half of the film fares better than the first, once the astronauts launch the mission and pieces of the moon begin hitting Earth. The digital effects are fantastic, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. Rather than let Wilson, Berry, and Bradley rise to the occasion, however, the script continues its snarky, tongue-in-cheek tone. The script leans heavily into forced humor, even as the jokes go over like a fart in an elevator. Had they played it a bit more serious – like ID4 and 2012 did – you would have had a solid B-movie to enjoy here.
Moonfall has its moments, and the outstanding effects and sound help gloss over at least some of the glaring plot holes. You’ll have to really suspend your disbelief, and not question the absolute absence of logic. At the very least, even bad Emmerich is better than some movies these days, so Moonfall at least warrants a watch. It’s a nice-looking diversion, but you’ll just wonder why the man who brought us Independence Day can’t deliver on that kind of level anymore.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
If you need one reason to buy Moonfall, I have one for you: it looks and sounds great in 4K. This movie reportedly had a huge budget, and you see all of it on the screen and hear it in glorious, demo-worthy Dolby Atmos. Lionsgate did a fantastic job transferring the film with a high bitrate, so shadows show impressive detail, which is essential for a film set in space. There’s a lot of black here, and the HDR 10 handles the contrast with the bright whites of the shuttle and spacesuits well.
All of this clarity does expose the fact that a lot of “outdoor” scenes were shot indoors, in front of a green screen. It’s the same issue I saw with his other recent film, Midway, and it is very noticeable. The audio, thankfully, cuts no corners, with a bombastic surround experience that compliments the visuals perfectly. Harald Kloser’s score sounds great, and there’s excellent separation from sound effects and dialogue.
The 2-disc set includes a handful of bonus features, but there are some informative, well-produced mini-documentaries that chronicle the film’s production. It’s definitely a matter of quality over quantity, and they are worth a watch. Thankfully, all the bonus features are included on both the 4K disc and the Blu-ray. I should note that the initial 4K announcement mentioned a featurette on the film’s sound design was included. It isn’t included on either disc, but you won’t miss it, as the other features are good enough on their own.
The special features included in the set are as follows:
* Audio Commentary by writer/producer/director Roland Emmerich and writer/producer/composer Harald Kloser. The audio commentary is disappointing, as Emmerich and Kloser offer little insight into the making of the film. Most of the commentary is the two of them retelling the story as we watch it, and they often sound like they are trying to explain the lapses in logic.
* Against Impossible Odds: Making Moonfall Documentary. This three-part documentary provides a behind-the-scenes look at the development and production of Moonfall. The parts are as follows:
- Part 1: An Aura of Believability (Running Time 21:24): Director Roland Emmerich and producer Harald Kloser discuss the initial concept that inspired the film, and how they brought it to life. Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson also delve into their characters and motivations.
- Part 2: Staging the Spectacle (Running Time: 19:48): Cast and crew explore how Moonfall was made in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. That included building dozens of sets, when location shooting was not possible. It was an impressive feat to pull off during a compacted shooting schedule. Their ingenious way of recreating the space shuttle cockpit and some of the film’s tentpole action sequences are featured.
- Part 3: Shoot the Moon (Running Time 17:41): Roland Emmerich and the crew describe how the alien entity evolved from concept to screen. There’s an extensive look at how CGI was used in many of the action scenes, as well as a look at the science of how the moon hitting Earth would affect it.
* Exploring the Moon: Past, Present, and Future Documentary. This educational featurette explores the cultural and scientific effect of the moon on man, and documents how history’s scientists have studied it. The space race is also detailed, including the Apollo missions. There’s also a look at the Artemis program, which seeks to return to the moon. Running Time: 26:29
* KC Houseman Speaks the Truth! A series of four promotional shorts in which actor John Bradley, in character as KC Houseman, explains the entire “megastructure” concept used in the film. Running Time: 7:49
* Digital Copy. A code for a digital copy of the film, redeemable through services including VUDU and iTunes, is included. Lionsgate codes are not redeemable through Movies Anywhere.
4K UHD SPECS
Release Date: April 26, 2022
Running Time: 124 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English Descriptive Audio, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Spanish, French
MSRP: 4K UHD Combo Pack $42.99; Blu-ray Combo Pack $39.99; DVD $29.96