In this current age, where conspiracy theorists are given microphones, money, and even elected President, it’s not surprising that we’re seeing them appear as characters in movies and their bullshit confirmed as part of a movie’s plot. In an interview with Collider for his latest film Moonfall, Roland Emmerich is asked about his inclusion of conspiracy theories.
Interviewer (Steve Weintraub): “One of the things that is in the footage is, it’s clear conspiracy theories play a role in the movie. It is also interesting that on our planet right now, conspiracy theories are running rampant. You couldn’t have known, maybe there was a little bit of your subconscious playing into all the conspiracies.”
Emmerich: “Well, I do this traditionally. 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. That it’s on the internet, you can check it out on the internet, et cetera. There is like endless stuff about the moon.”
Moonfall features three main characters, one of whom believes in a conspiracy theory about the moon that I have never heard before (we’ll get to the actual theory in a minute). What I found interesting is that Emmerich revealed how he gets ideas for his films – by surfing the dark corners of the Internet for conspiracy theories. Many conspiracy theories are easily tailored into world-ending apocalypses, if they aren’t already exactly that. And, since Emmerich clearly loves destroying the world in his films, it makes perfect sense that he would get his ideas from places welcoming flat-Earthers and anti-vaxxers. Don’t be surprised when 2025 features Emmerich’s next film about how cryptocurrency is a secret world government program to fund the blackmail payments preventing aliens from destroying the Earth via volcanic eruptions brought on by ET(not human)-induced climate change.
The other interesting part of the Collider article is Emmerich discussing how the script evolved:
“Gosh, it was a long script process. There was a really long script process because I started writing it more or less, as I was also writing Midway and I had this kind of feeling, what should I do first Midway or Moonfall? Luckily, I didn’t do Moonfall. I have to say, luckily because it was a totally different script. And it was great that we changed it because was at one point this whole thing was only hit by a meteor. It was just silly and only because we then kept working and working and working it…it got so much better.”
To be clear, Emmerich believes a story about a meteor crashing into the Earth was silly (something that is a legitimate concern of NASA, to the point where they have two offices dedicated to it), but crashing the moon into the Earth is not a silly (and absurd) premise. What’s even crazier to me is that he thinks the script he ended up with was so much better than the meteor script, which means the meteor script is one of the worst things ever written in the history of ink.
(SPOILER ALERT – This film has already been spoiled by that Collider interview, not to mention almost every synopsis and article written about it, so I’m really not going to feel bad about including spoilers myself. Not that I ever do for movies best described as shit sandwiches.)
In all fairness, the so-called conspiracy theory inspiring Moonfall isn’t a conspiracy theory at all, but is actually a concept any science fiction fan is familiar with – Dyson Spheres. In Moonfall, K.C. Houseman (John Bradley) is our conspiracy theorist and believes the moon is actually a megastructure built by aliens. Why Emmerich chose to call it a megastructure and not a Dyson Sphere is beyond me, but probably is as simple as Emmerich wanting to be able to call Houseman a megastructuralist. Yes, it sounds just as stupid saying it out loud as it does typing it. Ask Bradley or Patrick Wilson (playing former astronaut Brian Harper).
Houseman has data showing the moon’s orbit has changed, but nobody will listen to him because of his past as a ranting conspiracy theorist who has a restraining order against him so broad he’s not even allowed to call NASA. He also has zero evidence (not even flimsy evidence) to support his theory, which is slightly more than the people have who believe there was massive voter fraud in the 2020 election, so of course nobody wants to listen to him talking about the moon shifting orbit.
Meanwhile, NASA has also noticed the moon’s orbit has changed. Deputy NASA Director Jo Fowler (Halle Berry) and a couple of analysts do some math and realize they have about three weeks before the moon hits the Earth. Well, bye-bye Earth. Despite the film’s military instantly resorting to “let’s nuke the moon,” there is literally nothing humanity can do to stop something the size of the moon from going where it wants to go. Not even Bruce Willis and his oil workers.
This brings us to the entire reason any of us are curious to see this movie, beyond seeing apocalypse level destruction. What is causing the moon to fall? It has to be something technological, probably alien, or else humans can’t stop it and this would be a very short and uninteresting movie. Definitely not the stereotypical three or four people who always save the day in Emmerich films. The moon being a Dyson Sphere presents all kinds of intriguing ideas to choose from. Instead, Emmerich decided that if one conspiracy theory is good, two is better. Enter artificial intelligence.
That’s right – AI. Specifically, a swarm of intergalactic AI nanobots from somewhere else in the cosmos wants to eradicate all biological life because any biological life presents a threat to the AI. Sound like any Skynets you might know of? The AI also knows the moon is really a Dyson Sphere and must destroy it in order to also destroy humanity forever. One catch, the AI can only detect electronics and only when the electronics are powered on and within the vicinity of biological life. And there is no biological life on the moon, so…wait, why does it attack the moon? Whoopsie.
Another interesting thing Emmerich says in that interview is how test audiences were much more interested in the moon than with anything happening on Earth. Well, no shit, Emmerich. Of course people are more interested in the moon actually being a space station than in watching you blow up New York City for the umpteenth time. Just because you think figuring out a way to crash half the Chrysler Building into the Colorado Rocky Mountains (not making that up) is interesting, doesn’t mean anyone else does. Let me say it again – you made the moon A SPACE STATION!!
On that note, it is also unnecessary to include additional roadblocks for characters that have nothing to do with the main problem in this film. In multiple scenes, the children of the main characters are confronted by a trio of thieves at gun point. In the first scene, the thieves steal their car, then try to steal oxygen tanks from them in a later scene (the thieves apparently are world class eavesdropping ninjas or else why would want to steal oxygen tanks?). There are plenty of problems for them to deal with due to the moon’s descent causing all kinds of crazy trouble (gravity waves, floods, literal loss of gravity) without also making them deal with human assholes stealing their car. All that does is trivialize the real danger (THE MOON IS CRASHING!!) and make us believe they aren’t really in any danger from the moon.
When we finally do get to the explanation of who built the moon and why it was built, we just don’t care. Since Emmerich is never interested in exploring the ramifications and implications of the explanation prior to revealing it, the explanation doesn’t land with the audience. He’s far too worried about showing us destruction and bickering colleagues than he is about a truly interesting concept. He thinks the most important things in the film are a ragtag group of people figuring out how to launch a retired space shuttle before the gravity wave hits and how to make his nanoswarm look good, when the actual important thing is, say it with me now, Patrick Wilson is hot.
The movie that should have been made in Moonfall is NASA and friends exploring the moon after they discover it to be a Dyson Sphere. Think along the lines of Arrival meets the “Relics” episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. They can also discover or cause the moon’s orbit to be destabilized, allowing Emmerich to still wreak digital havoc on the Earth. Remove the terrible characters and replace them with characters we can sympathize with and root for. No more shitty ex-husbands. No more drunken astronauts. No more delinquent children. No more miscasting of Michael Pena or Eme Ikwuakor (whose deadpan performance made every Vin Diesel performance seem like a circus clown). No more casting Donald Sutherland in thankless, pointless, single-scene roles. And, most importantly, no more conspiracy theorists. We have plenty of scientists with plenty of wild ideas and theories based on actual science to use as story inspirations. Leave the crazies in the dark corners.
Rating: Ask for everyone’s money back for what is definitely a, checking notes, yep – shit sandwich.
Before we get to my son’s thoughts about Tom and Jerry, I’m going to weigh in a bit. When I was a kid, whenever we went to my grandparents’ house, we watched Tom and Jerry cartoons with my grandpa. It was the best part of the visit and I looked forward to it every time. Finding out they made a feature length Tom and Jerry movie made me wince and I am almost certain my grandpa rolled over in his grave. And to top it off, they made it a hybrid of animation and live action (think Space Jam and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?). Blech.
My friend put it perfectly right before we started watching it with our three kids – “I just hope it is watchable.” The kids seemed to like it, but they were purely entertained for the same reason I was when I was kid – Tom and Jerry smashing each other. For me, watchable is giving it too much credit. This was a terrible movie with terrible acting, terrible dialogue, and a terrible plot. It was painful watching Chole Grace Moretz crap her way through this movie as the lead actor. It was painful watching Michael Pena battle through a thankless, soulless, and decidedly unfunny role, the whole time clearly thinking “at least I was in two Marvel movies.” It was painful watching.
The good news is you don’t have sit in a theater with your kids and endure this heap. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Warner Brothers decided to release all of their 2021 films on HBO Max. So, you can just turn it on, give the kids some popcorn, and go do anything else for two hours. As I said, the kids seemed to like it. So, here is what my kid thought about it.
Have you ever seen a Tom and Jerry cartoon?
Yes. At Disney World at the Sci-Fi restaurant at Hollywood Studios.
Oh yeah. Did you think it was funny?
Since you were familiar with Tom and Jerry, what were you expecting from the movie?
I was expecting them to fight.
Were you right?
Yes. Definitely. I mean, obviously, it’s Tom and Jerry and they always fight.
What was the story in the movie?
Tom and Jerry. I don’t know how to explain. It’s Tom and Jerry. It’s basically a very long episode.
But there had to be a story more than Tom and Jerry fight.
So there’s this person who quit her job, then worked at this tower hotel in NYC next to Central Park.
Who was the person?
I forget her name, but I think it was like…I dunno. I forget her name.
Oh yeah. That’s what it was. Not like Terrance.
Does all of the movie take place in the hotel?
Yes. Well, most of it. Some of it takes place in Central Park.
What is happening in the hotel?
What kind of chaos?
What is an animal tornado?
It’s where Tom and Jerry go dun-nun-nun *rolling around on the floor* and it creates this tornado that sucks people in it?
What does Kayla have to do with Tom and Jerry?
Kayla helps Tom find the mouse, a.k.a. Jerry to stop having the chaos. But they still don’t get along because Jerry is a smart little fellow.
So the whole story is Kayla just trying to stop Tom and Jerry from fighting?
Uh huh. And there’s this one couple that is trying to marry in a giant ceremony and they got elephants. But Jerry is a mouse and elephants are afraid of mice, so bum-bum-bum. You never want to have something too fancy.
Was the whole movie animated?
Partially live action and partially animation. The animals were all animation, but the humans and New York City were live action.
Did you like that mix or would you prefer the whole movie be animated?
I would rather the whole be animated.
How would that make the movie better?
It would probably be the same because it would have all the same action and story.
What did you like about the movie?
I mean, I like Tom and Jerry. I like that they were in New York and I like the characters. The acting was a little *making a face* meh. Meh. Meh.
Besides the acting, is there anything else in the movie you didn’t like?
What did you think of Michael Pena’s character, the hotel event manager? (The guy from Spider-Man).
He has some good lines. He’s one of the good actors in that movie.
Did he have any funny lines?
Nah. He doesn’t really have any funny lines.
Seems like kind of a waste.
Yeah, but at least he was a good character.
In summary, what did you think about the movie?
Pretty good. Some parts were, if the movie was this cup and it was the max, it would be at this line right here. So, like seventy or eighty percent.
Ha. Ok. Any last thing you want to say about it before the rating?
Uh. Kids would like it. I think little kids would laugh a lot if they watched it.
Rating: I would ask for four dollars back because it could have been a little better and I don’t know where the hotel came from. In the episodes, they were in a house.
I remember my son watching the Nickelodeon cartoon Dora the Explorer and that show got old quickly. I may or may not have wanted to close my head in the freezer after the thousandth time I heard “Swiper! No swiping!” Thankfully, he has moved on to other shows like Phineas and Ferb, which is a much more entertaining show (though far less educational than Dora). When I asked if he wanted to go see Dora and the Lost City of Gold, he surprised me with a very enthusiastic yes.
For the last live-action kid movie – The Kid Who Would be King – I gave you a full review from my perspective. Despite the movie obviously being aimed at children, I felt like a King Arthur story deserved my full thoughts. With Dora and the Lost City of Gold? Not so much. In a short, this new Dora movie is another example of a kid movie treating kids as if they still have a vocabulary of mom, no, and baw-baw. It is filled with classic examples of bad screen writing, from setups that never come back around, useless characters (two of Dora’s adventure companions in the film), forced romance (seriously), dumbass bad guys, half-baked rip-offs (Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider), and things that don’t make sense, even in a fantastical kid’s movie. They even managed to make a MacGuffin out of The Map, which is actual character in the cartoon. Don’t take it from me; take it from my son.
I’m the map. *frown…sigh*
Okay Nick, I need you to pause the ipad. …Nick. …Nicholas.
Hang on, I need to do one thing.
…You ready? What’s the movie we saw today?
Dora and the Lost City of Gold.
Do you remember the last time you watched Dora on TV?
Did you know any of the characters when the movie started?
Any of her friends?
So this was like learning about Dora all over again for you?
But exceeeeeept…she’s in high school now.
So she was a little kid before?
And what does Dora do?
She’s a super-cool exploradora?
And what she does is try to avoid traps in the jungle.
Does that happen early in the move?
It kinda happens in the middle. Mmm…yeah, middle. It’s about Dora trying to find the lost city of gold.
Are you sure?
Are you sure she wasn’t trying to find her parents?
She was trying to find her parents. So she went to the lost city of gold to find her parents.
Is her high school in the jungle?
No…that’s where her house is. And she just drives to the bus stop and the school bus takes them to the school. And that’s how they go to school.
So who are her friends in the movie?
I don’t know most of their names. I don’t remember them.
How could you forget about Boots?
Dora sings a lot. What are the things that Dora sings about?
She sang about poop. She sang about weird stuff, but not very much. She said “Hi I’m Dora! And I’m being chased by pygmy elephants!”
Tell me about her friends. Were any of them helpful?
Dora was doing most of all the work. Because she’s the main character. But also her best non-animal friend was…*long pause*
Did they use a map to find the lost city? Like in the cartoon when the map talks?
No. Well…at least part of the movie turned into a cartoon. In a flower field. One of them touched a flower, and it shooted out poison baby powder. It was like a dream.
After we left the movie, you said something about gravity. What did you mean?
The bad guy, when he was in the quicksand – which is a liquid, like, how was it not falling? Gravity exists!
(Side note: I swear to you I did not plant that idea in his head, and I could not have been more proud when he said it.)
So he should have fallen through it?
Do you think it’s okay that gravity stopped working for a while in a movie that they turned into cartoons?
Yeah. Because you can build machines that turn gravity into fiction.
What was your favorite part of the movie?
The traps in the jungle. And how they escaped all of them.
It’s a trap!
Do you know who Indiana Jones is?
It’s a movie.
Have you ever seen it?
I’ve heard the music before. On my iPad.
What do you think kids will like most about the movie?
What do you think they’ll not like about the movie?
Well of course they’re gonna like the poop song.
Is that the best part of the movie?
What’s the best part?
The best part is the gold. But in real life, it was fiction gold. In REAL LIFE, not in Dora life.
Does the movie make you want to explore?
It makes me not want to go near traps.
Or farting quicksand?
Well, farting quicksand is pretty funny…but it’s disgusting. And what if it actually smelled?
Rating: Do you think people should pay $20 for this movie?
I think it’s more.
Because they put all that gold there. If it’s real gold. Or maybe it’s just computers. …Fiction.
A friend and I were chatting about space stuff, and one of the things we discussed was NASA’s current estimate of launching a manned mission to Mars by the mid-2030’s. She was crestfallen when I said “no chance” and explained to her why that’s a pipe dream. (We were supposed to have a replacement for the space shuttle by 2010 – which is now estimated for 2024 – and that was just for lifting astronauts to the International Space Station just 250 miles above the Earth, as opposed to the roughly 35 million miles to Mars. You do the math.) So, both of us will most likely be dead before that ever happens (and I’m still in my thirties). The closest she and I will get to seeing that achievement is by watching movies like The Martian.
There are many movies that are easy comparisons to The Martian. Gravity, Apollo 13, Red Planet – really, any space movie in which disaster strikes and the character(s) must survive an impossible situation. (Castaway is an appropriate comparison as well). The one thing that differentiates The Martian from those other films is that The Martian doesn’t take itself so seriously. That’s not a complaint about those other films, but it’s what makes The Martian feel like a breath of fresh air (and a sorely needed one in this genre). It’s nice sitting through a movie in which characters aren’t hyperventilating every other scene or playing tic-tac-toe to decide which button she should push because the writer or director was too lazy to make the character smarter than an airlock.
(Mild SPOILERS ahead and, also, he dies at the end. Or not. Gotcha.)
Matt Damon plays the title character, astronaut Mark Watney. He and his team are on the surface of Mars when a massive storm forces them to evacuate to the relative safety of space. While making their way toward their escape rocket, Mark is hit by a piece of debris that destroys his health monitor, renders him unconscious, and knocks him out of visual range of the rest of the crew. Captain Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is forced to leave him for dead in order to save the rest of the crew and they all leave the planet. When Mark awakes, he is alone, but his suit is intact and their habitat survived the storm. Since you are an intelligent movie goer, you immediately begin to list problems because you understand that (a) the ship cannot turn around because they don’t have the supplies to do that and still make it back to Earth alive, (b) the shortest current travel time to Mars is eight months, so Mark must survive at least that long, and (c) how long can Mark survive in the habitat given there is most definitely not enough food and water to last even the minimum eight months? Those are all good points and I’m not going to address any of them because I think you should pay money to watch this film.
But I will tell you a little bit about the characters, which will give some hints as to what happens. For starters, Mark is a botanist and the previews show him growing stuff. Part of the fun of this movie is how he solves problems like that, so from now until you see this movie, see if you can figure out how he does that (and, no, there are no plants of any kind already growing in the habitat prior to the disaster). Going back to what I said earlier, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, so Mark is presented as a rational, level-headed, non-panicky guy trying to make the best out of the worst possible situation imaginable. Much of the movie is presented as him speaking to recording devices throughout the habitat and we see him making light of situations, thinking and talking out problems and solutions, and choosing the exact right moments to cuss. It’s the perfect way to present this movie because there is always tension in the background (you are always waiting for something to go wrong), but is overshadowed by Mark’s resiliency.
The crew is presented the same way, but the five of them are really the equivalent of one character. Captain Lewis is the brain, the serious leader who must make all the hard choices. Martinez (Michael Pena) is the mouth, providing the comic relief. Johanssen (Kate Mara) is the heart, balancing the voices of reason with the voices of emotion. Beck (Sebastian Stan) and Vogel (Aksel Hennie) are the limbs, providing feedback to the body, but mostly just doing what they are asked. While it seems like they should have a bigger role in the movie (considering their acting chops), they are minor supporting characters. And, of course they are, they’re on their way home – what can they do?
The major supporting characters are the folks at NASA who are trying to figure out how to keep Mark alive long enough to mount a rescue mission. The main players are Director Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and his direct reports – Montrose (Kristen Wiig), Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), supported by a mix of managers (Sean Bean, Benedict Wong) and techies (Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis, Benedict Wong). Like the Mars crew, the NASA crew Voltron themselves (yes, I just made a verb out of Voltron) into a single entity, each character providing a different trait. The difference is Sanders, Montrose, and Kapoor have the most screen time, aside from Matt Damon, so they are much more fleshed-out than the ship crew and provide more than a single trait. The biggest surprise for me was Wiig. I normally end up despising her characters, but her Montrose was a much more likable character and her delivery was far superior than past performances (especially when delivering humor). This time, I actually wanted her character to succeed rather than die in a spontaneous mission control accident.
Besides all of that, the most enjoyable thing about the movie is the realism. Unlike the pie-in-the-sky science of Red Planet or the idiocy of Gravity’s physics, everything that happened in The Martian seems like someone thought about it for more time than it takes to toast bread. From the food to the fuel to the travelling to the air to the rescue mission solutions to the matching relative velocities, it never felt like the movie was asking me to stretch the definition of “suspend your disbelief” to the point of making my brain cry. I’m sure there is some liberty taken with the science, but if the average layperson (me) didn’t spot it without Neil Tyson DeGrasse pointing it out, then the filmmakers did a good job.
Thinking about this movie afterward, it might just be the best film I’ve seen all year. At the very least, it’s the most complete. The story is simple, thoughtful, and doesn’t have any glaring, obvious plot holes (this isn’t a surprise considering it’s based on a novel of the same name by Andy Weir. But, nice adaptation by Drew Goddard). The visuals are wonderful and even the 3-D was better than usual, providing some amazing depth and color (though I did learn a tip for 3-D viewing, you must sit dead center on the screen – I know, duh, right?). Matt Damon nails his performance, as do the make-up and costume guys (I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned them before, but it had to be said here). But most importantly, it’s a movie you’ll want to watch many times over, because besides being a great movie, at this point, the zombie apocalypse is going to happen before we see an actual human on Mars.
Rating: You definitely underpaid for this movie. Even if you paid twice.
There’s a scene in Dogma where Selma Hayek is explaining that nineteen of the top twenty grossing movies were inspired by a muse (her) and the twentieth was because someone sold their soul to the devil. With the amount of success Marvel is having with their films, either they’ve got an army of stripper muses at their headquarters or Satan’s going to need to a new wing at Infernal Studios for all those newly acquired souls.
I remember going into Guardians of the Galaxy with very guarded expectations. I didn’t think there was any chance a movie with such a ridiculous ensemble cast and a trailer with no plot hints whatsoever could possibly be as entertaining as it turned out to be. You’d think I would have learned my lesson after that, but I found myself with the exact same mindset going into Ant-Man. Could you blame me though? They cast Paul Rudd (really) as the lead/superhero in a movie that was seeming dangerously close to being a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids sequel. If you think I’m being hyperbolic, Ant-Man has a pet ant (actually lots of them) that the hero rides. You’re nodding now aren’t you?
As you may have guessed by now, I enjoyed the hell out of Ant-Man. I actually do like Paul Rudd, so I was looking forward to seeing if he could pull off being Ant-Man. The film begins, not with Rudd (Scott Lang), but with a scene from years past showing us a CGI’d Michael Douglas (Dr. Hank Pym) storming out of a meeting with Howard Stark and Agent Carter because Pym didn’t want them abusing his shrinking particle and Marvel wanted to make sure we understood this movie fits into the same universe as the Avengers. Fast forward to present day and we meet Scott Lang (Rudd), a thief being released from prison. We quickly get his background story – divorced dad with a young daughter – then meet his friends (including Michael Pena, who almost steals the entire movie with his brilliance) who want him to pull another burglary with them. As it turns out, they are robbing Pym’s house, which Pym orchestrated in order to convince Lang to become Ant-Man.
Meanwhile, Pym’s old protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), has nearly duplicated Pym’s work and Pym wants to stop him before he can sell it to the bad guys (no points if you guessed Hydra as the bad guys). Pym thinks Lang is the perfect person to steal Cross’ super-suit (the Yellowjacket) because of his burglary skills. That’s it; that’s the plot. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, the plot is simple and straight-forward, it presents a clear goal, and does a good job developing its main characters so that you care what happens to them. They even toss in a good confrontation and clichéd romance in the form of Pym’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who wants to don the ant-man suit herself (and makes a very convincing case as to why). The rest of the film is just Marvel doing what it does best – action mixed with comedy mixed with fun.
I wish I had more to say, but I’m not sure there is anything left to say when it comes to Marvel’s movies (the ones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that is). Ant-Man has erased the bland aftertaste from Jurassic World, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Terminator: Genisys and is easily as entertaining as The Avengers: Age of Ultron. The only real question left is if they can save some of their other properties from being destroyed. Spider-Man is on its third Spider-Man and the trailer for the reboot of The Fantastic Four made me think the 2005 Fantastic Four wasn’t all that bad (it really was). I’m sure there’s someone left over there with a soul to sell.
Rating: Worth as much as those three previous reboots I mentioned – combined.