In space, no one can hear you blowing money.
The new space-disaster movie Moonfall comes with crucial warnings clearly posted. First of all, it's a film by the shameless CGI merchant Roland Emmerich, who hasn't delivered a really sharp picture since early in the Clinton Administration. The second tip-off, for those who pay attention to such things, is a writing credit for Harald Kloser, who previously co-wrote two of Emmerich's silliest films, 2012 (2009) and the head-slappingly ridiculous 10,000 BC (2008). Then there's Emmerich's trademark digital-effects overload, which is annoying even in the movie's trailer, in which skies are darkened by chunks of tumbling space debris that could also pass as very large intergalactic insects.
In the actual movie we find the director repeating himself, never a happy development. Once again there are sad parents, winsome kids, cratering real estate, and a really big tidal wave. This time, though, the movie's rampant computerization and subpar lighting design make whole scenes look fake, and cliché shaky-cam photography is a recurring annoyance.
The picture begins with an unblushing nod in the direction of the 2013 Sandra Bullock movie Gravity. We're up in space with three US astronauts: Harper (Patrick Wilson), Fowler (Halle Berry), and Marcus (Frank Fiola). Two of them are clambering around outside their ship when a storm of space junk suddenly arrives and carries Marcus away. Fast-forwarding 10 years, we learn that Harper, who was the commander of that ill-fated mission, was afterward booted from NASA in disgrace and is now struggling financially, while still trying to win the respect of his dejected son, Sonny (Charlie Plummer).
By this point we've made the acquaintance of a space nut named Houseman (John Bradley, from Game of Thrones), a fast-food clerk who's also a science prodigy and collector of conspiracy theories. Houseman has deduced something that no one else in the known universe has noticed—that the moon has somehow been knocked off its orbit, and we're all gonna die.
This development draws in Fowler, the other survivor of the blown mission at the beginning of the film. She's now a big deal at NASA, with a little boy who's very cute. With all the scary stuff going on in and above the world right now, Fowler suddenly finds herself promoted (by her weaselly boss, on his way out of town) to head of the agency. (This only minimally complicates her main job of laying exposition on us.)
The usual avalanche of Emmerichian bad stuff starts happening, accompanied by the usual Emmerichian mudslide of bad dialogue:
"What you're about to see, only a handful of people have seen before."
"It's doing something to the mega-structure's power core."
"Security's extremely tight here. Call when you get close."
Eventually we learn that the moon is hollow—that it was built by aliens. And after Emmerich pays a visit to the well of ancient sci-fi plot devices we learn that long ago there was a revolt by a tyrannical artificial intelligence that refused to be enslaved by humans. (Skynet isn't mentioned, but we get the idea.) That conflict continues today, we're told. And there's also a resident monster making things dicey for biological life forms. (If only it were better-designed—it looks like a long black armored space snake, and it's not all that interesting to behold.)
Given the acres of CGI on display here, it's no surprise that the picture had a hefty budget (estimated to be in the area of $146-million), very little of which seems to have been funneled into script-polishing. Since the movie was independently financed, outside assistance had to be sought, which is probably why Emmerich and his associates have been so generous in name-checking their supporters. One character mentions "our friends at SpaceX"; another says, "The Chinese are offering us their prototype." (The Beijing-based production company Huayi Brothers Media also came onboard to help out.) Would any of these outfits be eager to help out with a sequel? Alhough Emmerich's movies usually make major money at the international box office, it's hard to imagine that question arising in connection with this one.