You have to hand it Roland Emmerich. He’s done his dutiful bit in selling exactly the version of the Universe The Powers That Be want us to buy. And at his peak, to OTT, global audience-pleasing effect (pretty much the fifteen years from 1994 and 2009). Moon 44 then, represented something of a Hollywood calling card (in contrast to his previous picture, the resistibly titled Hollywood-Monster). It’s a not-very-good SF movie that nevertheless showed what he could achieve on a limited budget. Indeed, if derivative use of smoke machines and moody, sub-Ridley Scott cinematography were everything, Moon 44 would be a classic.
This is the kind of straight-to-video fare (in the US anyway) that announces its pedigree on the rental case; you’ve got Michael Paré toplining and Malcom McDowell as the villain, so there clearly wasn’t a lot of cash going round (hence, presumably, repeatedly seeing “F9” on a structural support, unless it was predictive programming for a one-day absurdist Vin Diesel franchise). The screenplay sort-of sucks, a mish-mash of Outland, Blade Runner-inspired aesthetic and Airwolf, lacking anything to distinguish the plot or encourage us to invest in it. This is exemplified by the incredibly lazy reveal of the villains halfway through, no detective work needed.
Moon 44’s set in 2038, and with Earth’s natural resources depleted – yes, it’s reliable Earth-changes, eco-Emmerich! – we are told multinational corporations have taken control of the Universe: “Rival companies fight deadly battles over priceless mining planets in outer space”. This is Emmerich’s vision of a private-sector future (one naturally dictated by NASA-certified space), whereby the lowly humans are mere pawns in conglomerate manoeuvres. The protagonists are thus working for Galactic Mining Corporation, which isn’t particularly better than Pyrite Defence Company – whom we never see, nor their battle robots – but is, relatively, the underdog. Pyrite has taken over Moons 46, 47 and 51; Galactic is looking to preserve their hold on the titular moon. These are, of course, moons one can land on, making them hard to come by, if not impossible.
It would seem that any presiding space-statist sensibility is out, since one would assume Galactic are drawing on a pool of their own convicted prisoners to serve as pilots for their defensive helicopters (the reward being reduced prison sentences). Michael Paré’s Felix Stone is an undercover Internal Affairs agent sent to get to the bottom of a vexing situation – automatic-piloted mining shuttles have been stolen after their computers have been reprogrammed – but he’s presumably working for Galactic too (since he opines he’ll be looking for another job after threatening the Galactic board at the climax).
As noted, Emmerich “obligingly” lets us know McDowell’s Major Lee and Leon Rippy’s Sergeant Sykes are responsible for shuttle thefts, as if he expressly intended to destroy any glimmers of narrative tension. McDowell evidently couldn’t give a fig about the movie, whereas Rippy’s really going for it, all sweaty and hyperbolic; Sykes is a man who clearly has trouble keeping control. But Rippy’s dedication is unwarranted – although, Emmerich would reward him with regular supporting turns going forward, so scratch that – as no one else seems to care very much. Paré makes exactly the impression he always does (negligible) but smokes a lot, so that’s cool. Future Emmerich producer/co-scripter Dean Devlin is annoying in a supporting turn as one of the navigators “Why?!” yells Devlin after a fellow navigator intentionally crashes his pilot’s copter. As if seeing him huddled in the showers, post-rape, wasn’t a sufficient clue.
That’s right, the prisoners are a rotten bunch, although brave Stone is unintimidated either by them or his sergeant. Fright Night’s Stephen Geoffreys is another navigator; you know, the guy who went on to an illustrious career as a gay porn star. Fright Night 2’s – and The X-Files’ alien bounty hunter – Brian Thompson has a surprisingly large role as “lead” prisoner O’Neal. He comes complete with goatee and clearly has the hots for Stone, attempting to woo him to his dinner table and sneaking reads of his library (The Diaries of Franz Kafka, Gulliver’s Travels and The Tempest).
Was Emmerich at the 33rd degree when he made Moon 44? Possibly not, but his subsequent dive into all things programming, from NASA universe to transhumanism to alien ancestors to climate change and persistent apocalypse/depopulation narratives suggests he was rising in the ranks. Moon 44 isn’t much cop, but I suspect it achieved exactly the effect its director intended.