Moon 44 (1990)

Roland Emmerich's long overlooked early sci-fi film overcomes a flawed script with some strong direction. Boulevard UK R0 DVD

The Film

In the year 2038 mineral exhaustion on earth has forced mining corporations to set up operations on distant moons. The Galactic Mining Corporation is one of the major mining firms, but its outposts have been repeatedly attacked and destroyed by the militaristic Pyrite Corporation and its seemingly unstoppable drone fighter planes. In a desperate attempt to protect their most valuable outpost on Moon 44, Galactic Mining restart their defence program using piloted helicopters guided by navigators back at base. With the public very aware of the dangers in the Outer Zone, the only recruits that can be found are young computer geeks as navigators and military prisoners who are sent up as pilots. In with the prisoners is company agent Felix Stone who is investigating the disappearance of several mining shuttles from the moon which suggests that the Pyrite Corporation might have an inside man...

Co-written by director Roland Emmerich, Moon 44 starts off like so many other sci-fi films with an onscreen text blurb explaining that space mining is the future and that giant corporations fight for control of these resources. More clichés are reeled out as the main character turns out to be a rebellious ex-military agent and a key plot point concerns a group of convicts being sent on a deadly mission to earn their freedom. Fortunately while the script is none too original on the setting, it has a surprising depth in the characters and dialogue and the majority of the film revolves around the well written feuding between the young navigators and the convict pilots (who are believably unpleasant). Combined with some good tension, this level of detail is more than enough to keep the film moving at a fair pace until the suitably dramatic climax and a neat coda. A couple of interesting and well handled ideas include the heartless behaviour of even the 'good guys' at the Galactic Mining Corportation and the depiction of the film's one female character who does not end up in the anticipated romance with Stone and is a genuinely independent woman (without the usual "butch" clichés associated with this).

Unfortunately a handful of niggling flaws crop up in both the storyline and setting that do distract from the film somewhat. For a highly regarded agent, Stone seems to lack any subtlety and loudly talks to his informer while walking around the mining base. There is also something of a missed opportunity for a good twist when the identity of the traitor is revealed so early on, although the fact that there only appear to be three other staff at the mining base does somewhat limit the opportunity for surprises. The flaws in the setting are rather more serious - there seems to be no reason at all for pilots to actually be required on the mine defence helicopters, they are shown to be largely controlled by the navigators and could easily be remotely controlled (or simply entirely replaced by guided missiles). The whole Pyrite Corporation element also seems rather unbelievable - considering the importance of the raw mineral it is hard to imagine that the mining would not be controlled by strict regulations and there is no explanation of why people would do business with a firm responsible for several massacres or why there would not be some sort of military intervention by an equivalent of the UN.

Although best known today for his flashy but rather conventionally Hollywood-styled sci-fi pictures, director Roland Emmerich infuses Moon 44 with some real visual character. Although obviously inspired by Ridley Scott's Bladerunner (1982), he gives the film a rather different look more akin to something by Frank Miller or 2000AD, desaturating the image to the point of it often looking monochrome, emphasising the complete lack of humanity in his bleak vision of the future. In complete contrast to his more recent CGI-fests, Emmerich sticks entirely to model work here with the result that the film seems a lot less dated than many similar films from the same era - the ships and sets are detailed and well designed, looking strictly functional and emphasising their heavy industrial purpose (the only idea that does not work is that the drone fighters should actually have a robot sitting as a pilot which just looks daft). Composer Joel Goldsmith provides an effective modern score.

Veteran British actor Malcolm McDowell as the station commander is the biggest name in the cast, but the acting is generally strong all round with Brian Thompson (DragonHeart (1996)) making a believable tough and Michael Paré (BloodRayne (2005)) effective as Stone. Perhaps the most significant casting is American actor Dean Devlin who plays one of the young navigators - he would soon turn to film production and worked with Emmerich on his breakout hit Universal Soldier (1992) as well as the big sci-fi adventures Stargate (1994) and Independence Day (1996).

Moon 44 seems to suffer the opposite problem to most sci-fi films - its basic plot and setting are highly generic and not particularly well thought out, but the dialogue and characterisation are surprisingly strong - fortunately the balance is on the positive side and the well paced film is more than watchable. Emmerich's uncharacteristically artistic direction, combined with some effective model work and a modern soundtrack belies the film's age and it fits in very neatly with the contemporary resurgence of more intellegent space movies. Moon 44 is well worth tracking down for sci-fi fans and comes recommended.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Malcolm McDowell - a veteran British actor, still best known for starring in A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Directed by anyone interesting? Roland Emmerich - a German director who found success with Stargate (1994) and Independence Day (1996) and more recent climate change epics The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and 2012 (2009).
Any gore or violence ? A couple of infrequent gory effects.
Any sex or nudity? A strongly implied rape scene.
Who is it for? Of interest to science-fiction fans who enjoy storyline over action.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1. Anamorphically Enhanced. Colour.
The print is very strong with good detail and colour reproduction, no visible artefacting even in the darker scenes.
Audio English stereo - sounds fine.
Subtitles None
Extras None
Region Region 0 (ALL) - PAL
Other regions? Available from Kinowelt in Germany with English and German audio and a lengthy documentary about the director. Available on DVD in the US from Lionsgate but only in a noticably cropped pan-and-scan print (the earlier "Hollywood DVD" UK release also had a fullscreen print).
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. Print language is English.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 28th March 2011.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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