“I always used conspiracy theories because, not that I really believe in them in any way, it’s more like it’s kind of the lure of it… There is like endless stuff about the moon. So, in that respect, it was so strange for me that we got supported by NASA. I have no clue why they’re doing this. Honest to God. I have no inkling of an idea why they did this, but obviously, they need it.” 

—Roland Emmerich to Collider

MOONFALL is the most recent picture from director Roland Emmerich (UNIVERSAL SOLDIER), now available on video. It uses pretty much the same character tropes, broad cliches, annoying humor and preposterous approach to plotting that made him briefly an A-list director after (for reasons I still have not been able to discern) people liked those things in INDEPENDENCE DAY. That was a long time ago, and for quite a few years now the public has been less accepting of Emmerich’s product. By now all the destruction in his movies is computer generated, and we’ve seen every single thing everywhere digitally destroyed many times over, so the novelty has worn off. But somehow I’ve grown to get more of a kick out of his wildly ridiculous movies because they seem much more charming now that everybody agrees they’re just some puzzling bullshit that Hollywood made for some reason and not the current state of the art for blockbuster filmmaking.

In other words, this was by far the dumbest shit I’ve seen in a while, so I enjoyed it.

Patrick Wilson stars as grizzled ex-astronaut Brian Harper, who’s behind on his rent, wears a leather jacket and drives a motorcycle. He is straight up referred to as “disgraced” in the news because on a Space Shuttle Endeavour mission ten years ago another astronaut was killed by shiny black animated stuff from the moon and when NASA guys interviewed him about it in a very small and unimpressive office afterwards they said he was lying. The pilot, Jocinda Fowler (Halle Berry, THE FLINTSTONES) was unconscious at the time, so she fails to back him up and gets promoted to deputy director.

(This is kind of a reverse of INTERSTELLAR’s portrayal of NASA as a rebellious underground organization – here they’re a sinister agency ruining lives to cover up moon secrets.)

As in INDEPENDENCE DAY, 2012 and probly other Emmerich movies there’s a wacky conspiracy theory character and the joke is ha ha he believes this wacky stuff while the character drama is he’s an underdog because everyone laughs at him but he’s the one who’s right. Emmerich is still stuck in the ‘90s so this guy has Weekly World News type tabloids about gay aliens collaged on his wall. Also he’s an outside-the-box scientific and mathematical genius but at one point invokes the name of apartheid era diamond mine inheritor/internet troll Elon Musk as if he thinks he’s Albert Einstein. Anyway, the character is named KC Houseman, he’s played by John Bradley (Game of Thrones), and he looks like Kevin Smith but acts like James Corden. I was not surprised to read that Josh Gad was originally cast in this role.

KC believes (correctly, we will learn) that the moon is actually a “megastructure” built by aliens. Also he does some kind of calculations to prove that the moon is out of orbit. For some reason NASA won’t take some random guy’s calls about the moon being out of orbit, so he ambushes Brian when he’s supposed to speak to a small group of children at a space museum. Brian doesn’t believe him either so he’s pretty surprised when his phone suddenly says “News alert: Moon out of orbit.”

Jocinda already knew about it because some other group had separately figured it out. (Which makes KC kind of a redundant character at this point.) One of my favorite details is that when they get her to come in the caller ID on her phone just says “NASA.” You know – the main number for NASA. She butts heads with her boss (Stephen Bogaert, IT) but after the out-of-orbit moon causes tsunamis that they can see destroying the city out a giant window he says, “You’ve always been gunning for my job, right? It’s yours,” and peaces out. So I guess she’s the head of NASA now.

Brian has a son named Sonny (Charlie Plummer, SPONTANEOUS) who when he was little saw him so rarely he’d watch a video of a news story about him being disgraced to remember him. Now he’s a troublemaker who’s in jail when the disaster movie shit goes down. His rich stepdad Tom (Michael Peña, THE MULE) takes the rest of the family to shelter in Aspen, so it’s up to deadbeat dad to go save him.

That’s why when Jocinda calls him in as the only person who can pilot a last ditch Space Shuttle mission to ARMAGEDDON the evil moonjism he looks out the window at the world being destroyed and says, “I have problems of my own, you know.” You gotta wonder if Wilson knew what they were gonna green screen in front of him or if he’s just that good.

Which brings me to one of the things that made me enjoy this movie. Wilson and Berry are both giving it better, straighter performances than it deserves. I love watching a professional job like that. It makes it more fun. They treat it very seriously even when it’s cornball shit like her boss saying “You work for me!” and her saying, “No – I work for the American people. And you’re keeping them in the dark!”

Also to give it a little boost in the middle they have a guest appearance by Donald Sutherland (SPACE COWBOYS) as a weirdo records keeper who casually reveals a cover-up dating back to Apollo 11 and then promptly, it’s implied, commits suicide off screen.

I got a chuckle from the two times the Space Shuttle is brought up and someone says that they don’t have any Space Shuttles, they’re all in museums, because each time you know that means they’re gonna steal a Space Shuttle from a museum. Since society is mid-collapse when they do it, the Shuttle has been covered in graffiti and says “Fuck the moon” on the side of it. Minor nitpick: I wish Jocinda didn’t point out that it’s weird they didn’t paint over it before launch. I prefer this stuff without a wink.

As you can imagine, they for some reason bring conspiracy guy KC with them for planning and then to the moon. Nobody seems concerned that our national (or really global) defense strategy is being improvised by a lady who’s not officially in charge but has the previous NASA director’s security badge, a supposedly disgraced astronaut who doesn’t want to be involved and an annoying civilian whose qualifications are unknown to anybody. This movie’s version of the famous presidential speech in INDEPENDENCE DAY is when Jocinda tells everybody else at the base to go ahead and leave.

Of course there’s all kinds of other characters and disaster movie subplots going on. Jocinda has to cooperate with her ex-husband (Eme Ikwuakor, CONCUSSION), not just because they have a kid together, but because he’s Chief of Staff to the Air Force. Brian’s son Sonny tries to get Jocinda’s son Jimmy (Zayn Maloney) and exchange student Michelle (singer Kelly Yu) – who I was disappointed to realize was not her wife – to a military bunker in Colorado (coincidentally [?] where his family went to also?). Things have already gotten to post-apocalyptic-wasteland level human behavior so they keep getting attacked on the road by the same group of redneck bandits, and there’s a kind of fucked up thing where Sonny stopping them with a gun he got from his dad seems to represent a parenting victory over the stepdad who has actually spent more time with him.

In classic Emmerich fashion, the movie paints the stepdad as a piece of shit that Brian has to prove he’s better than, but then the stepdad heroically sacrifices himself. KC, being the equivalent to Randy Quaid in INDEPENDENCE DAY, also dies heroically, supposedly proving his worth to the world that considered him a loser.

Before that it’s like when they flew into the mothership in INDEPENDENCE DAY, but they fly into the moon, and KC nerds out to see a white dwarf and stuff. They learn that the moon was created by technologically advanced ancient humans, but has been attacked by rogue artificial intelligence. As ugly as I think the alien designs are in INDEPENDENCE DAY they are obviously better villains than some animated shiny black stuff that’s kinda like Venom before it wraps around Tom Hardy and becomes interesting.

Some of the spectacle is fun: huge boats and trucks and stuff flying through the air to smash into things, the Shuttle launching through giant waves that destroy the base, I don’t remember what else. In my notes I wrote “mounting moon terror,” which I believe was a chyron seen on a TV. Love me some mounting moon terror.

The screenplay, which Emmerich co-wrote with Harald Kloser (composer of ALIEN VS. PREDATOR!?) and Spenser Cohen (EXPENDABLES 4), was inspired by a 2007 conspiracy theory book about “the hollow moon hypothesis,” which purports that 1) the moon is hollow and 2) some other guy besides Shakespeare wrote his plays. Or maybe just the first one. This seems exactly like every other Emmerich screenplay, but the way it’s edited the rhythm – or lack thereof – is different. It’s 130 minutes but it made me wonder if it started out much longer and then had every bit of connective material cut. It just seems like it rushes through each beat without taking the breaths between that will make them make sense. To name a tiny example, stepdad Tom rejects a suggestion and then says “I have an idea.” There clearly should be a moment after the rejection where he thinks they’re at a dead end but suddenly the idea comes to him and then he says he has an idea. In MOONFALL you never get those moments in between, so the whole movie feels like a Wikipedia plot summary. Which makes it all even goofier.

According to the actual Wikipedia, MOONFALL is “one of the most expensive independent films ever produced,” with most of its money coming from Chinese producers, and then about equal from Lionsgate and a German company. (So forgive me for giving Hollywood the credit in the first paragraph.) It does not seem to have been a good financial investment, due to some combination of audience disinterest, Covid-19, winter storms in the midwest and going up against JACKASS FOREVER. Oh, and the sinister NASA agency trying to stop the truth from getting out about the moonjism. So I thank those financiers for losing money on our entertainment.

The ending does seem to promise further adventures of an AI duplicate of KC, and sure enough Emmerich has talked up a trilogy with an EMPIRE STRIKES BACK style cliffhanger on part 2. I don’t know if the moon would’ve fallen again or if it would’ve been different things the moon can do like MOONSMASH, MOONPUNCH, MOONLEAVE, etc. Could’ve been a total moonfuck.


This entry was posted on Monday, May 2nd, 2022 at 7:31 am and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

24 Responses to “Moonfall”

  1. Big budget B-movies, that move at a breakneck speed and feel like half of the scenes are missing, seem to become more common nowadays. Just look at the last VENOM movie, that barely felt like they used a script and instead just filmed the treatment. And don’t get me wrong, I like when a movie doesn’t have unnecessary bloat, but that doesn’t mean you have to remove anything that isn’t potential trailer material!

  2. Eh. It’s been done.

    Ben Affleck's response to Matt Damon's "Martian".

    Imgur: The magic of the Internet

    (Seriously, though, I am very much looking forward to seeing what sounds like a particularly dumb entry in a legendarily dumb filmography.)

  3. They’re finally adapting the book?

  4. This movie is so dumb, at some point I thought they would have to jump out of the way of the Moon.

  5. “they’re just some puzzling bullshit that Hollywood made for some reason and not the current state of the art for blockbuster filmmaking.”
    Maybe Emmerich thinks the “make art to contain evil” thing from WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE is a real thing that also applies to potential ridiculous disasters, and he’s been able to convince a few other people in the industry of it to get a few films made now and again.

  6. Started the movie with 2 other people.
    At the 50 minute mark I’m thinking “hey this is a fun movie, why the hate and the 5.2 imdb score?”

    At the 1 hour 4 minute mark I’m still having fun BUT I realize that the movie SHOULD end in like 25 minutes but WILL end in an hour plus.

    At the 1 hour 10 minute mark suddenly, uo to that point fun and fast paced movie, goes COMPLETELY OFF THE RAILS two fold =

    1. It stops DEAD in its tracks and becomes an UNENDIND EXPOSITION DUMP.

    2. That said exposition dump and “twist” in the plot is the dumbest most infuriating boring nonsensical “2001” and another 10 movies rip-off.

    Its as if the movie was at a serviceable point of quality and suddenly jumped of a cliff, landed in the ocean 200 meters below and then proceeded to continue falling till it hit the bottom of the ocean.

    It did a 180 degrees turn from good fun to ultra-boring turd right before our eyes.

  7. On the other hand and although I (in the end) hated this movie AND have very very few of his I like, I have to be fair and say Vern is a bit harsh and unfair on the “briefly a-list director” designation for Emmerich.

    The guy was an A-list Hollywood backed director from Universal Soldier in 1992 up until white house down in 2013. That is a full 21 years.

    And after that he managed to make a studio backed sequel and 2 VERY expensive independently financed movies, getting him to a 30 year career.

    Like him or not you gotta give him that.

  8. As this site’s most unrepentant Emmerich stan, you better believe that I loved the shit out of this magnificently idiotic comeback from one of the only guys in Hollywood to ever actually Blow Shit Up Real Good. Every time you get used to the current insane thing that’s happening, the movie senses it and shifts gears to something even insane-ier, creating a spiraling, bouncy lunacy which gleefully throws the kitchen sink at the screen without even a whiff of that flop-sweating insecurity which ever-so-slightly soured the otherwise-admirable bubblegum silliness of ID:2:R. It’s so effortless and bubbly that it feels genuinely joyful in a way that most effortful modern blockbusters can’t. This is just who Emmerich is. This stallion wants to run, and MOONFALL lets him run. He knows exactly where to go, and exactly how to take you there, if you’re inclined to go there too. The tone is pitch-perfect, heroically taking itself seriously so you don’t have to.

    My one complaint is the cast: I appreciate that Berry and Wilson are playing it straight, but they’re also both giving really drab, tepid performances. Wilson is mostly just dour and one-note; Berry is outright awful, though in fairness she’s playing the worst character. Straight is one thing, but you’ve gotta bring some charisma to the table to make it work in something this dumb. (They also weirdly waste Michael Peña in a role that doesn’t really make very good use of his talents). Weirdly, it seems like only TV’s John Bradley really gets how this should work, utterly shameless about going as broad and straightforward as possible in whatever the movie asks of him, from groan-inducing comedy to maudlin pathos.

    But all things considered, MOONFALL is a real gift for anyone who wants to remember what airheaded big-budget special effects porn looked like back when society knew what “fun” was. I urge you to excitedly point at the screen every time the moon appears.

  9. I have always been somewhat impressed by Patrick Wilson, since I first saw him in WATCHMEN, where he turned my least favorite and boringest character from the comic book into a conflicted and uneasy audience standin.

    Halle Berry needs to retire. How she earned an Oscar is a mystery to me, she has been pretty lousy in everything I have ever seen. Of course I never saw MONSTER’S BALL so who knows.

    I was mystified at the hot mess that is INDEPENDENCE DAY the first time I saw it, and how people didn’t see through the cardboard cutout plot, characters, and sleazy conspiracy nut quilt of ideas thrown together into a sloppy and embarrassing movie. I have since “grown” to understand some of its awkward charm (much like FIFTH ELEMENT) but it is a one time thing, you can’t just keep ringing that bell and expect anything but quickly diminishing returns.

    Donald Sutherland (BACK DRAFT) is an exceptional crazy guy though, so maybe I will check this out on fast forward.

  10. rainman, please for god’s sake check out JOHN WICK CHAPTER 3. If you’re unimpressed by Halle Berry in that one then unfortunately it is *you* who will be asked to retire.

  11. Or….check out BRUISED on Netflix

  12. Franchise Fred

    May 3rd, 2022 at 9:36 pm

    Very disappointed KC’s IBS did not become a tertiary problem during a tense ticking clock moment inside the moon.

  13. Franchise Fred

    May 3rd, 2022 at 9:38 pm

    Rainman, Kidnap is also the shit and The Call ain’t bad either.

  14. Excellent point about the IBS, Fred. How do you find a bathroom inside the moon? I also regret that I forgot to mention my favorite shot in the movie, when the moon was photographed to look as if it was rising up like a predator about to pounce.

  15. “my favorite shot in the movie, when the moon was photographed to look as if it was rising up like a predator about to pounce.”

    Hell, that’s like, a full quarter of the movie! In general I think the cinematography falls short of the epic scope of Emmerich’s best (read: most extravagant) films (his movie 2012 was shot by Dean Semler; this was shot by the guy who did Adam Wingard’s BLAIR WITCH remake) but yeah, it does a great job of conveying that the moon is the enemy, basically treating it like a kaiju.

  16. In my defense, I have only seen H. Berry in BOOMERANG (30 yrs ago), BULWORTH, X-MENS, SWORDFISH, DIE ANOTHER DAY, CATWOMAN, and CLOUD ATLAS. Can you blame me?

  17. Whaaaaaat!You didn’t see MONSTER’S BALL? That made up for like 5 CATWOMANs.

  18. This review makes me want to watch this silly-ass movie.

  19. So! After watching Troll, which is basically a subdued, Finnish version of an Emmerich movie (complete with extraneous family drama, conspiracy nut, and the government making terrible decisions as they ignore the suggestions of our intrepid, rules breaking protagonists), I got curious what the man himself was up to since the the last of his crap I’d seen (2012).

    And hey, I enjoyed it for what it is well enough! The moon actually shears off the top of a mountain in the Rockies, which might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in a movie. It’s what I tuned in for, and it delivered; I don’t think I’ve ever seen basic plausibility be held under contempt to this degree. Peak Emmerich, wonder how the hell he’ll top this one.
    @Film Noir – I don’t know about jumping out of the way, but by the end I thought we’d get a scene with someone ducking the moon, which would have made this a classic.

    I was also surprised by the hefty slab of sci-fi dropped in the middle of the movie: precursor races, Dyson spheres, Evil AI, the works. Dumb but ambitious, and a change of pace from the everything getting wrecked all the time that I expected. And I liked some of the imagery – the final scene with the moon adorned with rings of debris and (I assume) frozen gas was very pretty. I’d be up for a sequel.

    I agree that the pacing in this is noticeably borked. But then again the connective tissue would have been boring shit, so I’m happy they left it out – wish they would have cut more shit, like KC lecturing the NASA guys… Fine, we get it already. Jeez.

  20. And it also taught you the lyrics to Toto’s “Africa”.

  21. This went through reshoots? So it was EVEN WORSE originally? I didn’t think it would be physically possible for it to be any worse, as I was fast-forwarding through it…

  22. I was thinking.. have there been any movies where the conspiracy theory is ultimately shown to be wrong and is ultimately counterproductive? One would think that with all the current goings-on people would be backing away from that trope as if it was on fire.
    I was going to say Name of the Rose, but that’s not really a conspiracy theory that’s wrong, just a wrong theory.

  23. “Hey, cheer up. World’s gonna end in ten minutes anyway.”

    In STRANGE DAYS the deep, dark conspiracy that Tom Sizemore’s Max spins for Lenny Nero turns out to be bullshit he concocted to throw Lenny off his trail. That the whole thing finally boils down to a couple of “bad apple” cops doesn’t really make it better as a trope though, or more believable!

  24. Yeah that was kind of disappointing, you expect some deep dark secret the heroes can expose but it turns out just to be dumbass cops and a serial killer…in a way that was interesting because it was all disconnected crimes, felt like old school complicated film noir. Maybe should have split the difference, had a cabal of bad cops and Sizemore is an unrelated murderer.

    In a sense I’d think movies might go easier on conspiracy shit, since liberals tend to make movies and conspiracy stuff is all the rage with nutjob Republicans. You say there’s an evil cabal in a movie, might as well say yeah maybe Hillary Clinton IS eating babies! I actually do know a guy who makes weird little movies and he rewrote his older script because it had a bunch of conspiracy stuff in it but he said he didn’t want to come off like a Qanon asshole. He said conspiracy stuff was more fun 10 years ago but not anymore.

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