18 Things We Learned from Roland Emmerich’s ‘Moonfall’ Commentary

"Look out for Elon references!"

Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter revisits Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall through its commentary.

Roland Emmerich‘s filmography has seen its fair share of ups (The Patriot, 2000; White House Down, 2013) and downs (Anonymous, 2011; Stonewall, 2015), but the meat of it all has been epic disaster films including Independence Day (1996), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), 2012 (2009), and more. His latest plays into that expected niche, but filming a big disaster-filled action movie during Covid lockdowns might not have been the best choice.

To be clear, I’m a fan of Moonfall as it’s a dumb pile of fun, but general audiences didn’t quite agree. It’s on home video now, though, meaning viewers have a second chance to enjoy themselves. The disc includes a few special features including a commentary track, so of course I gave it a listen. Keep reading to see what I heard on the Moonfall commentary.

Moonfall (2022)

Commentators: Roland Emmerich (director/co-writer/producer), Harald Kloser (co-writer/producer/co-composer)

1. They intercut their studio logos with archived footage of the Apollo 11 mission, something they’re able to do as they “have control” of their films, because those logos are always “so boring.”

2. Co-writer Spenser Cohen brought words to the film, but he’s also the nephew of Toto’s David Paich which made securing the rights to “Africa” much easier and cheaper. One of the band members put up an initial stink as they thought Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) was making fun of the song by singing it out of tune.

3. The weightlessness was created in various ways including cables, cranes, and more, all hidden by angles and digital trickery. Similarly, the glass in the astronauts’ helmets is usually CG.

4. The early sequence featuring Harper’s family packing up and loading a moving truck while we see his grilling by government officials was a reshoot added after initial filming had wrapped. “People really didn’t understand what happened after the space accident,” so these exposition scenes are meant to answer those questions that otherwise didn’t come clear until later in the film.

5. The original Moonfall script featured a male co-lead character named Aaron Fowler, but they changed it to Jocinda Fowler (Halle Berry). They initially named her Erin, but the legal department squashed it as there’s actually an Erin Fowler in Washington, DC.

6. Stanley Tucci was originally cast as Tom Lopez, but Covid restrictions saw Canada shut down air traffic from the UK which meant he couldn’t get into the country. They turned to Berry and her management team for help, and they came back with Michael Peña. Of course, his passport had expired…

7. They researched what would happen if the moon actually fell onto/into the Earth, so yes, Moonfall is based on hard science.

8. The character of KC Houseman (John Bradley) verbally fellates Elon Musk several times throughout, but the film’s officially licensed automobile partner is Lexus. Curious.

9. They initially asked Bradley to use an American accent, but after giving his own British accent a try they realized that was the better, more charming choice.

10. Moonfall was shot in sixty-one days, with two added later for reshoots.

11. Roeg Sutherland is one of the film’s financiers, and they gave him a quick call to see if his father, Donald Sutherland, would take a small part in the film. The younger Sutherland initially thought they wanted to use his dad’s house in Montreal for shooting to which the answer was a hard no. “He apparently has the most beautiful house in all of Quebec.”

12. The character of Ziggy (Ryan Bommarito) has been part of several of Emmerich’s scripts but has never reached the screen until now.

13. They had to make a lot of specific script choices to ensure that a space shuttle crew of Harper, Fowler, and Houseman was “realistic.” As a point of comparison, he joins Ben Affleck in wondering why they didn’t just train astronauts to drill in Armageddon (1998).

14. Emmerich points out around the one hour mark the numerous (and obvious) scenes that are just actors working against an LED screen. “That’s how you shoot modern films, and most of the time the extras in the background are CG.”

15. They had a real astronaut on set during production as an advisor, and on occasion he would approach Emmerich and say “hey guys, I mean that’s not really possible.” They told him to roll with it as it’s just a movie.

16. They were talking about how to introduce the moon as a character and how it would first communicate with Harper. “The moon will speak to our characters through something that they’re completely emotionally involved with, so we decided this communication will go through their own thoughts about their family… and this is something we thought was pretty cool.” You know who else thought this was cool? James Cameron, back in 1989, with The Abyss.

17. They refer to post-action part of a film finale as “the mop-up” because you have to “mop up all the feelings, and bring everything together.” It was difficult here as they wanted to bring all their characters together for hugs and smiles, but “it was such a coincidence” if the astronauts somehow landed back on Earth where their families were. So they gave them a chopper ride.

18. Moonfall originally ended with the survivors looking up at the new moon, but an editor suggested they add more Houseman. It makes the people happy, and it offers them the chance to tease a sequel that will never happen.

Best in Context-Free Commentary

“We’re making the interesting choice to make everything look cooler.”

“It takes a long, long time to shoot people in weightlessness situations.”

“Look out for Elon references!”

“They’re in a dilemma which is always great for a movie.”

“I think it makes it realistic.”

“This is Roland at his best.”

“We had to do a little compromising here and there on the real science.”

“This is uncharted territory when you’re inside the moon.”

“Here’s one of our best jokes.”

“Does it really matter if it’s evolution or creation?”

Final Thoughts on the Moonfall Commentary

While I standby my assertion that Moonfall is good, dumb, goofy fun, this commentary track is a slog. Emmerichand Kloser spend the bulk of their time talking about what’s on the screen — what a character is doing, why the character is doing it, what the character will face next, etc. The pair also clarifies obvious themes, the need for character arcs, how humor works to relieve tension, and more, and it is snoozeville. We do get some anecdotes and amusing observations, but it’s hardly a commentary I’d recommend as worth a listen.

Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.

Rob Hunter: Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.