Moonfall is a movie that is as stupid as they come. But as I sat there in the dark, a delirious grin on my face, cackling like a madman, I couldn’t help but remember the words of Pauline Kael. “Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to appreciate them.”
Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall is most definitely trash-but it is excellent trash. It’s so bad that it’s almost hard to believe a director like Emmrich didn’t do it on purpose. Part of the charm of Moonfall is how despite the spectacle, the movie doesn’t feel polished. In contrast to most movies, Hollywood churns out; there is an endearing slap-dash quality to the enterprise.
The script is written by Emmerich himself, along with Harald Kloser and Spenser Cohen. Truthfully I was gobsmacked to learn that there weren’t another fifty writers. Moonfall doesn’t have a structure so much as the feel of a movie made by post-it notes. Had you told me that movie was penned by writers passing the script around town, each of them adding a scene, before passing it on, I would have believed you.
There’s an old saying about a room full of monkeys and a room full of typewriters and how they will eventually produce Shakespeare. I’m not convinced we’re not looking at the rough draft of the monkey’s work. But surely the monkeys would have been more coherent but possibly not as deliriously enjoyable.
Delving into the plot of Moonfall will get us nowhere. Suffice it to say, Patrick Wilson plays a disgraced astronaut Brian Harper, Halle Berry plays a fellow astronaut and newly made head of Nasa, Jo, along with the conspiracy-obsessed, socially awkward comic relief K.C. played by John Bradley. The cast is littered with character actors, all of whom have done better work, including Michael Pena as the new husband to Wilson’s now ex-wife Brenda (Carolina Bartczak). But it’s Donald Sutherland as Holdenfield, a NASA agent who tells Jo of the dark side of the Moon that steals the show.
Few character actors have cut their teeth in monologues meant to sell us the most outrageous codswallop, quite like Sutherland. It’s another hint that Emmerich knows what he’s doing. Moonfall isn’t bad in, say, the way the Fast and the Furious movies are.
No, Emmerich is channeling foundational films such as Plan 9 From Outer Space, Devil Girl From Mars, and The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy. The dialogue is terrible, but the actors don’t pause and ham it up. There’s no winking at the camera. You either accept that Brian, Jo, and K.C. are flying to the Moon in a rocket with the words “Fuck the Moon” spray-painted on the sides of it, or you don’t. Everyone else can wait in the lobby.
At one point, Brian declines to help Jo out because he has “a lot going on right now.” “And the moon falling into the Earth isn’t one of them?” Berry’s delivery is note-perfect because it’s not screamed or over-sold. Despite the movie’s narrative chaos, Emmerich plays it straight-and it works.
Robby Baumgartner, Emmerich’s cameraman, at times makes Moonfall looks shockingly cheap. The film is littered with shots of blatant green screens that are so bad it is a wonder they made it through post. But again, this is Bumgartner and Emmerich threading the needle of paying homage to bad films often mocked for their low budgets and still delivering good old-fashioned Hollywood spectacle.
Moonfall wears its cheese on its sleeve while being shameless in its product placement. I’m sure Lexus is a fine automobile, but Emmerich has these Lexus outrunning the Moon and doing Evil Knievel-type stunts. Like everything else, however, it’s part of its char, Emmerich has chosen, instead of trying to be coy, just flat-out lay his product placement bare.
If anything sticks in my craw, it’s the hero-worshipping of Elon Musk and SpaceX. Mind you; it rarely rises above K.C. mumbling “I love Elon” a couple of times and the use of the Space-X station to fuel up the rocket on the way to the Moon. Still, asking me to believe that anything Musk built works, glitch-free, in space, stretches the boundaries of suspension of disbelief even for Moonfall.
Though one could argue that characters as dumb as the ones in Moonfall worshipping a billionaire grifter are less propaganda and more a sly dig at a fragile over-inflated ego. Either way, it’s not enough to suck the rapturous joy I felt when the movie does a complete narrative 180 towards the last thirty minutes of the film.
I’ll leave you with this bit of antidote. After watching Moonfall, I was walking home, and as I thought about the movie, I found myself giggling to myself in the night. The line between great art and great trash is often razor-thin, and frequently the two overlap. Moonfall may never crossover into great art, but it is never ashamed of being great trash either.
Images courtesy of Lionsgate
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