I thought I was onto a winner when I started watching Moon 44. The visuals were impressive, the characters seemed interesting at first and it had a nice little conspiracy plot thrown in there. I did really think this was a gem, but by the middle of the movie, I was ready to shut it down. Sadly my search for underrated science fiction films continues.
Moon 44 is set in 2038, where Earth’s resources have been depleted and there are continuous space fights for any deposits on other planets and moons. Corporations now have total control over the galaxy. A mining company has lost all but one of mining moons, and all of its shuttles are disappearing en route to home. First thought to be a technical error, it soon becomes clear that the shuttles are being stolen by an enemy corporation, after being diverted by the station’s computer. Moon 44 has its own defence system, but with so many pilots dying during training, they soon resort to using convicts, with promises of a get out of jail free card. Felix Stone, an internal affairs agent is sent undercover as one of the prisoners, to investigate the disappearance of the shuttles.
Now, probably the oddest thing about this movie is the defence system they employ. As I said previously, they have to resort to convicts to pilot the helicopters, but they are not alone in defending the moon. The corporation uses teenage computer geniuses to help the pilots navigate the deep canyons. This kinda reminded me of a poor man’s version of a lot of anime, that uses symbiotic relationships in warfare. However, in anime, there is a valid reason for the two manned defences. In Moon 44, it just seemed a little silly and pointless. I mean they could have used any number of defensive systems like missiles, or just have the navigation system on the helicopters. I mean this is perhaps why they had already lost so many moon mining facilities.
The sets are fairly well done. You can definitely see inspiration from Alien and many other quality sci-fi films in the industrial style of Moon 44, which you could say is uninventive but I enjoyed it. It really does set the atmosphere quite well and is perhaps the thing about this film that I enjoyed most. As for the rest of the special effects, well they are competent but you can clearly see that the helicopters are little models, which I won’t give them too much hassle for considering it did come out in 1990 and it is a low budget movie. They do use a lot of smoke to try and mask this in the canyons – which I’m still confused about why the copters don’t just fly above them.
However, the choice of helicopters seems like a misstep considering that helicopters generally need an atmosphere to work. Which is a pretty bad mistake to make and would require just the basic research to find out. Then there are the navigation systems that the geek geniuses use which look pretty rudimentary and old. This facility is meant to be run by a multinational rich corporation, so I would have expected something a bit more sophisticated. It could have been a video game from the 80s from the way it looked.
But considering all of this, perhaps my main disappointment with Moon 44 is the plot. It starts off fairly strong, but then just adds a sub-plot that seemed very unnecessary and has a harrowing scene that was very out of the blue. Once all the pilots are on the station, unfortunately for the teenage navigators they start causing trouble. At first, it is harmless with the criminals stealing their bunks, but then it escalates into a rape. Which with this type of film, I was wholly unprepared for and perhaps that irks me more.
As well as that, considering that the pilots’ lives are in the hands of these young navigators, you would have thought they would not have rocked the boat. But I guess in this future landscape of Moon 44, these convicts don’t have a lot of smarts. There is a brief mutiny scene in which the teen geniuses stand up to the convicts, but this is quickly resolved and feels like filler to pad out this thin plot. The main story of Moon 44 is pretty much pushed to the sidelines by this until the very end, as if they have forgotten why they are all there. There is a bit of commentary at the end regarding the state of this greedy future world, but it lacks bite.
Perhaps the main character, Felix Stone, is the main disappointment. He is meant to be the best agent to root out what is happening, but there was a distinct lack of investigative work on his end. The whistleblower seems to do more of the heavy lifting in finding out things. Stone spends most of his time having stand-offs with the other convicts and just generally being a moody guy. But let’s not be too harsh on Stone, he is the better character out of the bunch of cardboard clichés to be fair. You won’t find much moral ambiguity in any of the characters, sadly. With Stone, I just was more hopeful of the character’s role after the introduction he was given at the beginning of Moon 44. You probably won’t like this film if you are sick of macho displays as they happen fairly frequently – mostly from the Sergeant and the convicts. If they had tried to develop those characters more than they did, it might have softened the intensity.
Moon 44 is not the worst sci-fi film but there are a lot more story-rich and visually beautiful movies out there that are more worthy of your time.