WTOP Space Reporter breaks down new Roland Emmerich sci-fi flick ‘Moonfall’

Roland Emmerich’s latest sci-fi flick “Moonfall” opens on the big screen Friday.

However, your favorite WTOP Space Reporter caught a sneak peek on the small screen of a Mac Powerbook with an external stereo sound speaker for a home viewing.

Emmerich has given us several sci-fi flicks, including “Independence Day,” “The Day After Tomorrow” and “2012,” all of which I have seen at least once. Each had a common theme: Humanity is doomed either by aliens, climate change or a surge of solar neutrinos at Earth’s core.

In “Moonfall,” a mysterious force knocks Earth’s Moon from its orbit, giving humanity just weeks before annihilation. NASA executive and former astronaut Jo Fowler (Halle Berry) has the solution, but no one believes her except for a past colleague, Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) and a conspiracy theorist, K.C. Houseman (John Bradley), hatching a last-ditch mission into space.

The movie takes place in the present day, more or less, but starts off with a space mission gone wrong 10 years earlier. Wilson watches “something” disappear into the Moon at Mare Crisium (a.k.a. “Sea of Crises”), but gets thrown under the NASA bus big time when the agency claims it was all his fault and he saw nothing more than meteorites and solar flares.

As the movie progresses, another common Emmerich theme returns: human relationships in concurrent crises with that of the Moon, from divorces to parenting to exes in general. The talented Michael Peña and Charlie Plummer have supporting roles in this regard.

A word of warning: This is not a movie where you can get a popcorn refill, return to your seat and expect to pick up where you left off. It is fast moving and, well, covers a lot of space stuff in two hours that you need to pay attention to: space shuttles, Dyson spheres, megastructures, DNA ancestry, orbital mechanics and electromagnetic pulses, to name a few.

You also don’t want to miss a delightful appearance by Donald Sutherland, who explains the “Moon Conspiracy,” which began with Apollo 11’s first landing on the Moon in 1969, then continued through all subsequent lunar missions up to Wilson’s ill-fated mission.

Emmerich actually used a former Space Shuttle astronaut to train the actors to perform realistically as scientists and teach Earth-Moon interaction and large scale disasters. It was fun to see Tweets going back and forth between @Moonfall and NASA Twitter accounts about the film’s premise:

WTOP spoke with geophysicist Mika McKinnon, who advised Emmerich about the effects and human response to large-scale disasters.

“The best thing about being a scientist is to inspire curiosity to tell better or more interesting stories,” McKinnon said.

What were her favorite parts of the movie?

“The tidal waves with their extreme heights and the description of ‘rings like a bell,’ which is something geophysicists do in real life,” McKinnon said.

WTOP also spoke with former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino to grade the accuracy of the space shuttle and orbit scenes. He liked the movie very much and thinks most astronauts will enjoy it, his favorite part being when the Space Shuttle Endeavour is brought out of retirement.

“The on-orbit views with the look and feel of it are accurate,” Massimino said, with the exception of music playing during the spacewalk, of course. “My ‘wow’ moments came with the shots of space and the Moon. They were pretty cool.”

I couldn’t help but see some scenes that could have been from “2012,” “Gravity,” “Armageddon,” “Mission to Mars” or “Contact,” but the special effects are on-par with Emmerich’s other blockbusters. I thoroughly enjoyed the orbital and Moon scenes, which NASA provided.

At times, you may have to suspend science and the real world for the length of the movie. Just buckle up, sit back with enough popcorn and enjoy the ride. Like McKinnon and Massimino said, “Moonfall” is not a documentary or pure science film, but it is fun and enjoyable.

I wholeheartedly agree. I plan on seeing the movie again on the big screen.

Oh, and there is social media buzz about Emmerich making a trilogy with “Moonfall.” Only time — and the box-office draw — will tell.

Follow my daily blog Whats Up? The Space Place to keep up with the latest news in astronomy and space exploration. You can email me at skyguyinva@gmail.com.

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