Synopsis: After the death of his father, a boy growing up on a lunar mining colony takes a trip to explore a legendary crater, along with his four best friends, before being permanently relocated to another planet.
Stars: Isaiah Russell-Bailey, Mckenna Grace, Billy Barratt, Orson Hong, Thomas Boyce, Scott Mescudi
Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Running Length: 105 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: Here’s an interesting piece of moon-rock streaming fare for you and your tween to take on if they are too young for the animated offerings on Disney+ but aren’t yet ready to graduate to being given free rein of the Netflix remote. An often limited-appeal YA offering that rides a rail-thin line of appropriateness at times, the target kid for this movie will be pretty specific. Still, there’s something about Crater that gives the adult viewer a small taste of that old-school Wonderful World of Disney charm, and that might keep them sticking around longer than their younger companions will to see how it all pans out.
Life on their lunar colony is all Caleb (Isaiah Russell-Bailey), Dylan (Billy Barratt), Borney (Orson Hong), and Marcus (Thomas Boyce) have ever known. It’s 2257, and all are children of miners from Earth that have come to the moon looking for the promise of a new life on Omega, a Utopian colony that can only be reached through a 75-year journey in cryostasis. Complicated contractual details for the miners turn their service into decades of hard labor, delaying their departures with the possibility of never making it off the moon and committing their children to a life in limbo.
When Caleb’s father is killed on the job, leaving him orphaned, he is automatically granted passage to Omega, but he must leave all his friends behind. Before he does, he enlists their help in following up on a task his father couldn’t complete: traveling to the mysterious crater they are forbidden to enter and see what is inside. (Has there ever been a more Disney-riffic single goal plot?) With the help of Addison (Mckenna Grace, Ghostbusters: Afterlife), a new transplant from Earth, the team quickly gets in over their heads as they venture into unfamiliar territory rife with danger and unexpected turns.
I had heard nothing about this movie (never a good sign) before it landed in my inbox, but doing some homework after, I was amazed to see that the pitch that kicked off Crater’s completed script was featured on that infamous Black List in 2015. You’ve likely read about that list on here several times over the past few months because a few movies from the various incarnations of the Black List have been showing up in theaters/streaming to various degrees of success. Initially bought by 20th Century Fox, when Disney acquired the studio, it became a natural fit to help grow original film content for their streaming service…for 53 million dollars.
Looking at the finished film, I can almost see where that money was spent, and while director Kyle Patrick Alvarez coaxes distinguished performances from his young stars, Crater can’t help but come off as a second-tier Disney+ product. Whereas the recent Peter Pan & Wendy felt like it was filmed for the big screen, Crater appears at home, well, in your home. For a film about space and space travel, it’s too grounded and never grows big enough to take up the kind of astronomical size it should. Chiefly about loss and moving on, Griffin’s script naturally tends to be slightly introverted. While the emotional core is well developed, it’s surrounded by bursts of action elements that don’t always align with that tender heart.
Watch Crater with a child that’s too young, and you’ll end up answering many questions that you may not be ready to talk over yet. That’s all I’ll say about the direction the film heads. Still, on the flip side there some some that will find it a refreshingly mature path for a company that sometimes can pull its punches in the emotional satisfaction category. I’m not sure that all of Crater works in its overall attempt at significant depth in an unwieldy package, and it’s a bit too simplistic to be a race-to-watch feature, yet it’s been crafted with care and sensitivity.