Hello, police? I’d like to report a murder—the sacrifice of credible science on the altar of entertainment, as evidenced in the latest trailer for Moonfall. It’s the latest epic disaster blockbuster from director Roland Emmerich, in which the Earth’s existence is threatened by the Moon getting knocked out of its orbit and into a collision course toward Earth.
Look, I love me some Roland Emmerich. Independence Day (1996) is top-notch entertainment, and while his Godzilla (1998) was widely panned by critics, it featured a world-weary Jean Reno as a French scientist constantly bemoaning the lack of decent coffee in America, which was worth the price of admission alone. But in recent years, the director has pivoted to what can only be called climate-change inspired “disaster p*rn,” with over-the-top films like 2009’s 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow (2004).
Both films made big bucks at the box office, despite mixed critical reviews and dings for their sloppy use of science. In fact, The Day After Tomorrow frequently winds up on people’s lists of most scientifically inaccurate films. That’s not a deal-breaker so long as the film is entertaining. As screenwriter Jeffrey Nachmanoff pointed out at the film’s Berlin premiere, “This is a disaster movie and not a scientific documentary, [and] the film makers have taken a lot of artistic license.” Thus far, Emmerich has shown a talent for pushing an audience’s willing suspension of disbelief to the limit without crossing the line into utter ridiculousness (or at least, audiences will be having so much fun, they’ll cheer on the ridiculous aspects with glee).
Emmerich might have another film to add to those “worst of” lists with Moonfall, which nonetheless looks like it could be a lot of fun, even if the “science” is likely to make one’s brain hurt. Per the official premise:
[A] mysterious force knocks the Moon from its orbit around Earth and sends it hurtling on a collision course with life as we know it. With mere weeks before impact and the world on the brink of annihilation, NASA executive and former astronaut Jo Fowler (Halle Berry) is convinced she has the key to saving us all—but only one astronaut from her past, Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) and a conspiracy theorist K.C. Houseman (John Bradley) believes her. These unlikely heroes will mount an impossible last-ditch mission into space, leaving behind everyone they love, only to find out that our Moon is not what we think it is.
This is actually a valid scientific “what if?” question, although it’s usually approached from the viewpoint of the Moon moving out of its orbit and away from Earth rather than crashing into us. (The Moon really is moving away from Earth at a rate of roughly 38 millimeters a year.) The most likely effects in that scenario would be the lack of tides, no more eclipses, and an unstable axial tilt to the Earth. There’s probably some interesting scientific speculation about what would happen in the opposite scenario, but Emmerich’s storyline instead charges headfirst into bonkers-ville.
The trailer opens with a panicked message from our resident conspiracy theorist, Houseman, along with an offer of free bagels, because why not? He asks Harper for help in gaining access to NASA leadership to warn them about what he’s discovered. “NASA and I aren’t really on speaking terms these days,” Harper tells him. “Well, that’ll change, when you tell them that the Moon is out of orbit,” Houseman replies. Cue dramatic music as an ominous giant Moon appears on the horizon.
Of course, the government is lying about the whole thing, because it’s not like they can do much about it anyway, especially since we learn from Berry’s Jo Fowler that “we’re dealing with an intelligent entity.” Say what, now? Yes, it seems the Moon is home to a space monster that may have knocked the Moon out of orbit and into a collision course with Earth—it’s not entirely clear from the trailer. Regardless, Fowler recruits Harper and Houseman to join her on a mission to save the planet. Cue Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising.”
I’ll give the trailer major props for leaning into its goofball premise with gusto, Bradley’s comic timing, some very cool special effects for the Moon monster, Donald Sutherland, and this bit of cheeky space shuttle graffiti:
Moonfall opens in theaters on February 4, 2022. There’s also a fun marketing gimmick: a fictional website attempting to explain why the Moon is attacking the Earth.
Listing image by YouTube/Lionsgate