6 Feb 2022
Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser, Spenser Cohen
Patrick Wilson, Halle Berry, John Bradle
Roland Emmerich is a director who’s known as the master of disaster. His work includes Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012. He returns to the sci-fi disaster genre with Moonfall. In 2011 a space shuttle gets attacks by a swarm of nanobots, leading to one of the astronauts getting killed and another, Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) disgraced. Ten years later, K. C. Houseman (John Bradley) undercovers evidence that the Moon is out of orbit and heading towards Earth. The fate of the world lays in the hands of Harper, Houseman, and the deputy director of NASA, Jo Fowler (Halle Berry). Emmerich’s disaster work has an increasing level of escalation.
Independence Day was about aliens destroying a lot of major cities, The Day After Tomorrow was about climate change wreaking havoc to the Northern Hemisphere, and 2012 showed the Mayan Doomsday destroying the world. If the moon crashes into Earth, it would completely destroy the planet, not just kill everything. As well as a sense of escalation, Emmerich’s disaster films have also been getting more ridiculous. Moonfall requires a big suspension of disbelief. However, another use to Emmerich’s work would know what they are letting themselves in for and anyone who has seen the trailers know Moonfall is about stopping the Moon crash into Earth. Criticising Moonfall for having a silly plot is a moot point. Since Independence Day Emmerich has been trying to repeat that success. However, Independence Day was a lightning in a bottle situation. It was a cross between a ‘70s style disaster film, a modernisation of War of the Worlds, and ‘90s filmmaking. It had a mix practical effects and ground-breaking CGI which made the action and destruction a marvel to behold. Emmerich’s follow up disaster films had become CGI fests which meant the physicality was lost. One of the big appeals of Emmerich’s disaster films is the destruction. Many landmarks were blown up in Independence Day, New York was flooded in The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012 saw California, Las Vegas, Washington, and the Vatican all getting destroyed. Moonfall was lacking this: there wasn’t much property damage in comparison to his other films. It’s what audiences have come to see. This smaller scale was also expended to the cast. Independence Day, Independence Day: Resurgence, and 2012 had massive casts that were spread out across America or the globe. Moonfall had three main characters and the supporting cast were family members. When Harper and Fowler finally do go into space the secondary plot was about their families trying to get to safety. I can picture the press notes saying ‘Moonfall is a film about family.’ To be fair to Moonfall there was an emotionally powerful moment in the third act. Moonfall does have some impressive visuals. The launch sequence was a prime example of this. Gravity went haywire as humanity has only has one chance of being saved. It was a ludicrous moment because water was rising up into the air but it was an awe-striking image and there was a great sense of peril. Emmerich is a German director known for making patriotic American films and Moonfall was no expectation. Fowler said she worked for the American People with pride and determination. A scene where the NASA and the American military bring a space shuttle out of retirement would make audiences want to chant ‘U.S.A, U.S.A.’
Another trend in Emmerich films is conspiracy theorists are right. Moonfall was no expectation with Houseman being the wise sage that everyone ignored. He was like Woody Harrelson’s character in 2012 if given a more prominent role. One of the most ridiculous moments was Houseman leaking the information on Twitter and the world’s media reporting on it quickly. How the hell was that tweet treated seriously when there are many nutcases saying the world’s flat or run by lizard people?
Emmerich has joined the bandwagon of big-name directors who have criticised the current cinematic landscape, namely Marvel films. He criticised the MCU and Star Wars have made it harder for original films to be made. His statement would have more weight if he wasn’t such a formulaic filmmaker. Like Independence Day and 2012, Moonfall had a big cover-up hiding some deep, dark secret and Moonfall lifted ideas from those films. Like Independence Day the heroes in Moonfall had to go off into space to use a weapon against the alien threat and whilst on the ground Harpers and Fowlers had to trek through the mountains to find safety, like John Cusack and his family in 2012.
Moonfall was a knowingly silly film and it’s the best way to approach it. There were laughs to be had, both intentional and unintentional and people can treat it as a turn-off-your-brain film. But it was a lesser offering from Emmerich due to his formulaic storyteller, inconsistent special effects and lacking the destruction of his previous disaster films.