Movies - Moonfall : discover the final trailer

By Mulder, 06 january 2022

In Moonfall, a mysterious force knocks the Moon from its orbit and hurls it on a collision course with Earth – and with life as we know it. With only weeks before impact and the world on the brink of annihilation, NASA executive and former astronaut Jocinda ‘Jo’ Fowler (Academy Award® winner Halle Berry, Best Actress, Monster’s Ball, 2001) has an idea that can save our planet. But only a man from her past, Brian Harper (Midway’s Patrick Wilson) and lovable conspiracy theorist K.C. Houseman (Game of Thrones’ John Bradley) believes her. These unlikely heroes mount an impossible final mission into space, leaving behind, perhaps forever, their loved ones – and discover an incredible secret about Earth’s only “natural” satellite. In the early 1960s, U.S. president John F. Kennedy implored Americans to go to the Moon, not because it was easy, but because it was hard. His hopes and dreams for this impossible task became reality in 1969, with the Apollo 11 lunar mission – a true “giant leap for mankind.” But, posits Moonfall, that world-changing event hid a secret that would, in 2022, see the Moon come to us.

Humanity faces the true and absolute dark side of the Moon, as entire cities are evacuated, moving to higher ground offers the only chance of survival, and civil unrest is pervasive and destructive in once unimaginable ways. It’s Earth’s sixth extinction-level event. Moonfall director Roland Emmerich is a master of cinema spectacle, encompassing science fiction blockbusters, like Independence Day, 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow, as well as historical epics, including The Patriot and Midway. In addition to scale and scope, the acclaimed filmmaker’s work always presents a cornucopia of fun, relatable themes, fully realized characters, and powerful emotions about the power of hope.

For Moonfall, a theory that described the Moon as something vastly different from what we learned in high school science class inspired Emmerich. “There are some who believe that the Moon is not a natural object,” he remembers. “I thought that was an intriguing idea for a movie. What happens if this object falls down to Earth? Of course, we would have to figure out how to stop it, but I was equally fascinated by the challenge of creating characters who embark on a mission to the Moon to save our planet, as well as the families who stay behind and struggle to survive the cataclysms that come with the Moon’s collision course with Earth.” Emmerich, along with frequent collaborator Harald Kloser and screenwriter Spenser Cohen, crafted a screenplay combining gripping science fiction elements, ever-destructive disaster scenarios, and fascinating and relatable characters.

Kloser, who also serves as a producer and composed the film’s score, notes how Moonfall fits into Emmerich’s body of work. “We want to make people laugh and cry with our movies,” he explains. “It’s really cool for an audience to have that first little laugh early on, so they know it’s okay to have fun, too. That makes the characters’ journeys more exciting. It’s a genre that Roland invented with Independence Day.

“For this film,” Kloser continues, “we came up with the idea of the Moon changing orbit and it looks like it’s going to crash down on us, which is a completely overwhelming situation. But the human spirit won’t give up so quickly. There are always people who exceed their potential, and we like to tell stories about ordinary people in absolutely extraordinary situations.”

Much of Emmerich’s work is also about family relationships, which are very much at the heart of Moonfall. “Family dynamics are rarely easy, and in our movie pretty much every family is broken,” says the director. “But this cosmic event brings them together and leads them to understand that family is the most important thing in their lives.”

Coming together to save the world

Halle Berry takes on the pivotal role of NASA deputy director Jocinda Fowler. The Oscar winner describes the character as being “wicked smart. She’s a woman who’s surviving in a man's world. You won't find a woman in that position at NASA who isn't extremely intelligent, strong, and has a real sense of self about her. Fowler is very willful; she's had to survive in this world and hold her own. I love women and characters like this because she’s strong in her work but she's also a mother.”

Berry makes note that the role was conceived as a male, “So credit to Roland for realizing that this could be a female character and still have the same impact.” A central figure in Fowler’s life is astronaut Brian Harper, portrayed by Patrick Wilson, who was once a close friend but from whom she’s now estranged. Fowler and Harper’s relationship has its own texture and history, which are integral to the story. “Fowler was Brian’s ‘work wife,’ and he was her ‘work husband’; they were that close,” says Berry. “Then… something… happens, which leads to misunderstanding and confusion. He takes the fall and that is the beginning of the unraveling of their relationship. We visit them again and they have a chance to come to terms with what happened. They realize that neither was right or wrong; it was just a very unfortunate situation that was hard to explain, and they went their separate ways because of it.”

“Brian’s in a pretty terrible place. He’s jobless and unreliable,” explains Wilson. “He’s a former astronaut who struggles with what he once witnessed during a mission in space. He’s more of a rogue scientist than a typical, by-the-book guy, which is how he differs from Fowler. She still has a government job, which he resents, and he carries guilt for what happened on this failed mission years earlier, which got him kicked out of NASA. His marriage and relationship with his son are broken. Harper has a lot of personal problems and demons that he must find a way to overcome.”

Wilson embraced the opportunity to reunite with Emmerich, with whom he had collaborated on Midway. Moreover, he says Moonfall “is a great concept. I love sci-fi and don’t get a chance to do it a lot, so that was a big bonus.” Wilson also enjoyed playing opposite John Bradley, who portrays KC Houseman, a conspiracy-addled and discredited scientist, who nonetheless plays a key role in the desperate mission to save the Earth. As Wilson explains, “The reality is that Brian is the only one who has seen what’s up there and understands the nature of this threat. Fowler initially doesn’t see it. Houseman is one of the few people who believes Harper’s account of the failed mission. He has his own conspiracy theories, which aren’t that far from the truth, as it turns out. So he and Brian find common ground in being outcasts. Their relationship is so fun on the page and it’s even more fun to act. John and I had such an exciting time with their dynamic.” Brian’s redemption comes when Fowler finally believes him about the grave danger the Moon poses to Earth and teams up with Brian and KC to save the world. “Fowler makes NASA realize their sole option is to send the only team that’s ever been up there that can maybe solve this problem, and that includes Harper,” explains Wilson. “That gives him a new lease on life and a reason to fight for who he loves, which is his son.”

The third member of the triumvirate, Houseman, is “one of the most fun characters I’ve ever created,” claims John Bradley. That’s saying a lot, given that Bradley played the role of the lovable Samwell Tarly in the landmark HBO series Game of Thrones. But that twinkle hides a complexity. “Houseman doesn’t have any friends, so he’s emotionally isolated,” explains Bradley. “He’s also intellectually isolated because he collaborates with people who don’t have any time for the things that he believes in. He’s always trying to communicate his passions, interests, and theories, but nobody’s interested. We find him completely alone in the world, searching for a point of contact, a kindred spirit, an ear that wants to listen to what he has to say.”

“He establishes a relationship with Brian,” continues Bradley. “They become a team because they have this mutual understanding of what it feels like to not be listened to; that’s when we see him really blossom. All KC needed was the right person to listen to what he has to say and then he really comes into his own. All of his youthfulness, his skill set and abilities, the things that he’s best at in the world, were lying dormant waiting for that one spark that is going to allow him to make a difference. That catalyst is meeting Brian.”

“We make a ragtag group,” explains Berry about the trio that ventures into space to save both Earth and the Moon. “We’re all kind of antiheroes. I don't think any one of us wants to be there, yet we all must be there. Fowler is there because she's an expert in navigation and must be the one to guide the mission and make sure they get where they’re going, while Harper is the only one who can fly the shuttle. KC represents the everyday average guy on the flight of his life. He's not an astronaut, and has nothing to do with NASA, but he has this brilliant mind that’s produced the idea that the Moon is [an enormous, self-supporting artificial construct, known as] a megastructure. Fowler and Harper realize they need him because, if in fact it is a megastructure, then they’re going to want a megastructurist with them when we get there. It's a fun group. KC and John Bradley bring a lot of humor to the movie.”

Charlie Plummer plays Harper’s son, Sonny, whose relationship with his dad is troubled. As Wilson notes, “No matter why a dad is absent from his kid’s life, it doesn’t matter to the child. Harper wasn’t there when Sonny needed him. Harper is constantly letting him down because he’s battling his own demons, and failing. Sonny’s not the most strait-laced kid, either; a little of his dad has rubbed off on him and that’s why they butt heads. Harper can only hope that Sonny will be a better man than him. Throughout the film you see Sonny make those strides. They both have a mission in this film.” “Sonny has this whole resentment against his father and mother, but he also loves them very much,” Plummer says. “It’s this love/hate thing teenagers sometimes have.”

Sonny’s central relationship is with Michelle (Kelly Yu), a student who lives with Fowler and her son, Jimmy. Michelle and Sonny meet at Vandenberg Air Force Base, where she watches Fowler blast off into space. “That’s when Michelle realizes that Sonny is going to drive her and Jimmy to a safer place,” Yu points out. “We talk about ourselves on the way and go through really challenging stuff and become emotionally involved.”

Harper’s ex-wife is Brenda Lopez (Carolina Bartczak), and Sonny is their child. Their marriage didn’t work out because, says Bartczak, “Harper was overcome by his failures at NASA. She was forced to leave him to protect young Sonny, as Harper succumbed to depression and alcoholism. She eventually married Tom Lopez, played by Michael Peña. Sonny never really forgave her for leaving Harper. She has this teenage son, who is in anguish, and her new family with Tom, and she's struggling to balance the two families.”

For Peña, the role of a loving family head (and successful car dealership/franchise owner), was a major draw. “Early on, I decided I’m going to play Tom as someone who constantly keeps loving – one of those old school personalities that doesn’t care if he comes off corny. I thought that was a beautiful and poetic way to go about it, really gutsy and against the status quo.

“He also carries this baggage,” Peña continues, “feeling as if he's never good enough and worries about living up to her ex-husband, the dashingly handsome astronaut, Brian Harper.” The cast is rounded out by esteemed actor Donald Sutherland in the role of Holdenfield; Eme Ikwuakor, as General Doug Davidson, Fowler’s ex-husband; Frank Schorpion, as General Jenkins; Maxim Roy, as Captain Gabriella Auclair; and Stephen Bogaert as NASA Director Albert Hutchings. Ava Weiss and Hazel Nugent play Sonny’s stepsisters and Tom Lopez’s daughters. Zayn Maloney plays Fowler’s son, Jimmy.

When worlds collide: physics, vfx, and megastructures

Once again, Emmerich pushes the boundaries of the science fiction/disaster genre – this time by exploring his vision of the Moon’s unique megastructure physics. The scripting and filming involved extended discussions between the screenwriters, science advisors, director of photography Robby Baumgartner and visual effects supervisor Peter G. Travers (who has a background in engineering).

The process of writing the script became intertwined with keeping the physics of the falling Moon as believable as possible, which ended up shaping the story itself. “We had the initial talks with scientists about what would happen,” says Emmerich. “We talked to someone who worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. What he told us was quite interesting – that if the Moon goes out of orbit it would transition from a spherical to elliptical orbits, which get smaller and smaller until it collides. That was the first thing we were really excited about.”

“Then we learned that it doesn’t matter how close the Moon is to Earth, the gravitational pull will always be the same,” he continues, outlining an inconvenient fact that required a creative solution. “However, the film’s Moon isn’t a natural moon, so it wants to go back into its old orbit; it’s revving up the engine. We played around a bit with how much we accelerated that.” “There were certain assumptions that we had to make, such as the Moon is a megastructure so it’s not a solid piece of rock,” explains Travers. “It has structure inside that has some density. It’s been orbiting our planet at a certain speed and distance. We had to figure out how it could, for billions of years, be spinning around the Earth, until an event suddenly changes that. The only way you could really get the Moon to fall towards the earth is to suddenly inject it with much more mass than it had before, which in turn informed the development of an anomaly. We determined that if an anomaly could inject mass into the Moon, then that’s how that anomaly decided to take the Moon and crash it into Earth.”

The first step in the extensive VFX process was to set up a physical simulation in Maya – the widely used 3D software for visual effects, with Travers building a mini solar system in the software The story unfolds over three weeks, so the filmmakers created a universe where the Moon would fall to Earth within that time frame. “I got my physics Moon set up perfectly in a harmonious orbit, and then I started messing with it,” says Travers. “I injected it with mass, then I did the simulation, and then rendered it all out. We had to figure out what could inject the Moon with all that mass, because nothing in the physical universe suddenly adds mass to an object.”

“Once we made the assumptions about mass, we could determine its gravitational effect,” Travers continues. “Calculating gravity between two planets is extremely complicated; it’s called ‘the two-body problem’ in physics. There’s a point near the end of the movie, when the Moon’s so close it is exhibiting a strong gravitational force on the people there, and that’s why there are all these anti-gravity effects. Roland observed that objects and people would not be pulled straight upwards, because when the Moon is rising, everything would be pulled sideways, and very powerfully so. Roland was like, ‘Oh, I can have some fun with that!’” Despite all the physics calculations and VFX wizardry, ensuring scientific verisimilitude also involved integrating physical sets, props, and special effects. “You always have to build the foreground in some form and build objects,” explains Emmerich. “I still believe in practical effects because they’re the glue that holds it all together. It helps audiences buy into it.” Cinematographer Baumgartner and Emmerich discussed lighting in the early phases of visual design. “Moonfall is a big action, high energy sci-fi thriller, but it’s also character driven,” Baumgartner tells us. “Roland and I talked about having the dramatic scenes rooted in reality lit in a naturalistic style. Not what you would expect in a big sci-fi. I prefer not to use unmotivated light like heavy backlight or strong edge light for no reason. Plus we had plenty of opportunities once in space and in the moon for more freewheeling use of light and color. We were also intent on shooting the lower end of the camera in terms of light levels in certain scenes and really pushing the digital media, letting things go dark, which was exciting to me.”

“There are two phases to the film, encompassing the terrestrial and non-terrestrial scenes,” notes production designer Kirk M. Petruccelli. “The challenge was to have two massively different and specific visions of the storytelling and then fuse them. On Earth, Roland's concept was to keep it very real and heartfelt because each of these characters have something they need to share. Then the event itself had to be captured in such a way that it's not only seen from our view but also from space. It's that big.”

The inventive and massive action sequences required coordination between Baumgartner, special effects supervisor Guillaume Murray, Petruccelli and stunt coordinator Patrick Kerton. “Because of the scope of the action happening in this film, certain scenes had to be shot on 360 blue screen stages because the enormous and cataclysmic disaster unfolding was a ballet of live and CGI action,” says Baumgartner. “In one such scene there is a car chase on the snowy streets of Aspen while the moon closes in on the Earth. The big wide shots were always intended to be CGI shots, but we needed to shoot the actors and the car live and integrate them convincingly to VFX shots to come later. So movement, crashing the cars together and all the interactive lighting was best done on a stage. Guillaume the special effects supervisor built hovercraft-like rig for each tire of cars, so they could slide, float, drift and crash into each other with ease and little effort. We utilized two telescoping cranes with stabilized heads that had three axes. With these tools were able to tie in the movement of the cars to the action in a wide CGI shots. We use the 3 axis of camera movement to give the effect of the car either lifting off the ground or crashing down. It was quite effective.”

“There was quite a bit of interactive lighting,” adds Baumgartner. “That was one of my biggest cinematic challenges going into this film and a very important element in integrating the live action with the CGI elements. We often had a rising Moon that initially starts off warm like a sunrise, because it’s so close to Earth’s atmosphere, and then needed to transition it to a cool blue moon that rises quickly and gets increasingly intense. We had an elaborate motorized rig made that elevated a very powerful RGB LED light source precisely timed with the action happening in the big CGI wide shots. Besides that, there were several scenes with dozens of meteors crashing through to earth, so we needed to create the light and movement to feel this warm fast-moving light on the actors and the set. My gaffer, Eames Gagnon, my key grip, David Dinel, and I tried various ways of achieving this, but in the end the most effective way was to chase lights rigged the whole length of the stage instead of trying to physically move a light source. Besides that we had explosions, moving headlights, lighting…it was quite a workout” One of the film’s action highlights sees thousands of people scrambling to buy or steal gasoline, food, water, and oxygen tanks. A group of bandits determined to make off with a trunk full of oxygen tanks – just as oxygen is about to be pulled from the Earth – attack them. There are earthquakes and 18-wheelers flying at the characters, big crevices are opening in the earth, water towers are falling, and there's a once-in-a-lifetime snowstorm. A typical day in the Emmerich-verse.

Earth under attack

The Earthbound portion of Moonfall is set in Colorado, which the filmmakers recreated on Stage 3 of Grande Studios in Montreal. “From start to finish, we were looking at six weeks to create about a mile and a half of Colorado landscape,” says Petruccelli. “We had a team of set designers using the newest technologies to digitize, replicate and scan real mountain ranges, dissect them, create ribs, exactly reproduce each one of these sections and skin them with the rocks that we created on set.

“Gravity – the pull of the Moon on Earth – is one of our main effects,” Petruccelli continues. “If there are plate tectonics on a global scale, you're going to have shifting landmasses and earthquakes, so you're going to have plate work and moving set pieces. All the sets had to withstand high-speed winds, rain and snow.” The big stunt scenes that take place on Earth had lots of moving parts, literally, because of the anti-gravity effect of the approaching Moon.

Bradley was in some big stunt scenes, including one early in the story, when a tidal wave floods the hotel at which he’s giving a talk about megastructures. “Patrick Wilson and I swallowed an ungodly amount of disgusting water that day,” Bradley says with a laugh. Recreating Los Angeles in Montreal was an enormous undertaking. Says Petruccelli, “Everything was built: the runway, streets, all of the buildings. What made it authentically Los Angeles were the details. Precise detail went into the street dressing and graphics that we find on all the buildings. The destruction was quite something, because we had to dress the set as it would be and then go in and destroy it ourselves so that things fall where they would naturally fall. It's not about throwing a bunch of destruction all over the place. You start with the real thing, imagine the catastrophic event, then you destroy it, which is fun.”

NASA’s thumbs-up and behind the scenes

The U.S. space agency, NASA came aboard the project early on, and Emmerich was more than pleased – and a little surprised – by its enthusiasm. “They thought it was an interesting idea that portrays astronauts in a very heroic way,” he points out. “They were intrigued by our depiction of space and space travel, and were super cool about letting us use their rockets for the first recon mission. We also use the official NASA logo, which gives the film a certain authenticity, and they were helpful in sharing their high-definition photos of the Moon. NASA has very sophisticated cameras up there.”

Working in a real shuttle was invaluable to the actors. “We were pushing buttons that real astronauts have touched and equipment that they actually used to fly,” says Berry. “We also had a retired astronaut, Bjarni Tryggvason, with us to give us the rundown, so we weren't just pushing buttons or clicking things randomly. We had a lot of advice and tutelage on when you'd push what and why you do what you do. We tried to keep it as authentic as we could.” As an advisor on the show, Tryggvason helped ensure accuracy. “I consulted on some of the operations of the Space Shuttle that they’re using and about the language the characters would use and how they move about in space,” he observes. Since the actors weren’t working in zero-gravity, the filmmakers had to find a way to simulate that effect. “We went back to using a lot of the old-style systems,” says Kerton. “Guillaume developed a motion travel system where they were able to travel lengthwise, up and down, and rotate using some small gimbals on a system.”

“My stunt training for antigravity was five months working on Aquaman,” declares Wilson. “I came in with knowledge of what it’s like to act like you’re floating, which helped, because it can be tough to pull that off.” “Recreating the zero gravity was pretty easy for me,” says Berry. “I played an astronaut on a television show for two years, in which I did a zero-g flight, which was amazing. I know what it feels like to float, what weightlessness is, and how the body moves. I really understood fundamentally what that was. Those were fun things for me to revisit.” “Halle and Patrick were used to being in a harness and doing their flights; they were like regular stunt people putting on a harness,” explains Kerton. “But John Bradley had never been in any of these situations, so we developed his system more like a parallelogram. We had body casts made for him that he would actually sit in, and we’d use physical movement, where he could float around in the spacecraft.”

Berry shares her experiences about the challenges of acting in a void, which the VFX team would later fill with VFX. “In the film’s opening attack scene, for example, we're looking at nothing; it's all imagination. These movies are quite different from other movies because we really have to be able to commit to our imagination. Roland can share the premise and give us a basic idea of what will be happening, but we know all too well that the fully rendered scene will be more vivid than we can visualize. But we're forced to use our imagination. It's a really unusual way of working. We have to trust in what's going to happen on the other side because we literally are looking at nothing much but some visuals on a screen that are kind of simulating what we might see with color tone and flashes of light.”

Costume designer Mario Davignon likens Emmerich to a painter who’s all about color composition and lighting to help create authenticity, along with spectacle, adventure, and edge-of-your-seat entertainment. Davignon studied NASA spacesuits and took his cues from reality, “for inspiration and to understand an astronaut’s technical needs.” He ensured that the suits were, most of all, functional. “After that, you play with your design and color,” he notes. “I sat with Roland to figure out the lighting. We chose the colors and dyed them to get exactly the pale blue we wanted. We selected orange as a contrast color.”

Getting the details right was paramount. “Audiences want to connect to something, so the emotion becomes more personal for the viewer,” Davignon continues. “That’s why for the astronauts’ costumes I was inspired by something real and then adapted it.” In the end, Emmerich, his actors and department heads, have crafted a sci-fi disaster movie with spectacular visual effects. At the same time, Moonfall is a story about family that reveals the hero inside even seemingly ordinary people.

Moreover, says John Bradley, one of its other leading “characters” is nothing less than the stuff of myth and legend. “One of the great hooks of this movie, which makes it so relatable and universal, is that the Moon is mysterious but also hugely familiar. You sing songs about the Moon when you’re three years old; it’s always a part of your life and, whether you know the science behind it or not, you’re always aware of the Moon.” Wilson says that amid all the spectacle, the story explores compelling themes. “A wonderful thing that films can do, whether they’re a tiny independent movie or an epic adventure, is engage in conversation and make you think. A movie can change the way that you look at a certain subject and open your mind, even if it’s a big, fun, splashy spectacle. Moonfall does that in a couple unusual ways: it brings up the worry of AI and machines rising against you; there is an increasing fear that is very real. It also discusses climate change without ever mentioning the words ‘climate change.’ It’s not heavy handed, it just plants these little seeds in people’s minds, which is important.”

Halle Berry notes, “Audiences gravitate towards spectacle like this because they can see themselves in these scenarios. We all have this fascination about the end of the world, what that would look like, and if we’d live through it. The other draw for me was Roland Emmerich -- nobody does these movies better than Roland. It was a great chance to collaborate with a director whose work I've admired and to be part of a story of this magnitude.” For Emmerich, Moonfall is another opportunity to explore a genre at which he is considered a master. And his credo exemplifies what unites all his films: “I always want to give audiences things they haven’t seen before.”

Synopsis : 
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 conspiracy theorist K.C. Houseman (John Bradley) believe 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.

Directed by Roland Emmerich
Written by Roland Emmerich, Harald Kloser, Spenser Cohen
Produced by Harald Kloser, Roland Emmerich
Starring  Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, Michael Peña, Charlie Plummer, Kelly Yu, Donald Sutherland
Cinematography : Robby Baumgartner
Music by Harald Kloser, Thomas Wander
Production companies : Centropolis Entertainment, Street Entertainment, Huayi Brothers, AGC Studios
Distributed by Lionsgate (United States), Metropolitan FilmExport (France)
Release date : February 4, 2022 (United States), February 9, 2022 (France)

Photos : Copyright Lionsgate