Producers: Shawn Levy, Dan Cohen and Dan Levine Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez Screenplay: John Griffin Cast: Isaiah Russell-Bailey, Mckenna Grace, Billy Barratt, Orson Hong, Thomas Boyce, Scott Mescudi, Carson Minniear and Brady Noon Distributor: Disney+
Unexceptional visual effects prove par for the course in this futuristic family film from Disney’s streaming service. “Crater” is a far cry from Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s last feature, “The Stanford Prison Experiment,” jettisoning that picture’s dark, disturbing portrait of psychological torment to come across like the sort of lightweight fantasy that would be at home on any kids-centered cable TV channel—a tale of adolescent alienation marked by some silly action and a particularly sappy ending.
The plot centers on a group of youngsters living in a mining operation on the surface of the moon in the year 2257. The company running the operation resembles something out of the nineteenth-century industrial revolution, treating its employees, and their children, like indentured servants, the adults required to serve twenty years in the mines before being transported—via the helium they mine—to the lovely but distant planetary settlement of Omega, though the workers’ contractual obligations are often unfairly extended or even transferred peremptorily to their offspring.
Teen Caleb Channing (Isaiah Russell-Bailey) is an orphan; his mother died some time ago, and his father Marcus (Scott Mescudi) was just killed in a mining accident. Company’s policy dictates that children suffering such a loss will automatically be transported at once to Omega, where they will be taken in by foster parents. The voyage takes seventy-five years, during which passengers are kept asleep cryogenically so that they don’t age.
Caleb had been told stories by his father about a distant crater, which he implied had a special meaning for the family and hoped his son would visit. Now it appears he’ll never get there to discover what his dad meant. But his best friend Dylan (Billy Barratt) has other ideas. He intends that he and their buddies Borney (Orson Hong) and Marcus (Thomas Boyce) will borrow a company rover and take Caleb to the crater during a lockdown caused by an impending meteor shower. In order to secure the rover, though, they need the help of Addison (Mckenna Grace), a newcomer from earth who has access to some needed codes and is recruited to the mission with surprising ease.
Like Caleb, who suspects that his father’s death was really a suicide intended to get him to Omega, all the youngsters have personal problems. Dylan’s saddled with fulfilling the terms of his family’s contract; Borney is a worry-wart always expecting the worst; Marcus has an enlarged heart that could kill him anytime; and Addison has come to the moon with her recently-divorced father while her mother and beloved younger brother Charlie (Carson Minniear) went to Omega. Despite bickering along the way, the trip to the crater brings them closer through the revelations it offers as well as the dangers they face together.
Their adventures along the way are pretty standard fare. Addison teaches the others the rules of baseball. They use up too much of their oxygen supply shooting themselves into the air like rockets, forcing them to visit what they assume is just an old supply station but turns out to be a still-functioning model residence for once-intended lunar communities, whose amenities (and food) they proceed to enjoy before going wild in slow-motion.
Eventually they reach the crater, which proves to be a holographic miracle that affords the lunar kids a taste of earth and reveals a secret that allows Caleb to connect spiritually with both his parents. Then it’s time for a harrowing attempt to get back to the mining operation during the meteor shower. A postscript shows Caleb on Omega, listening to seventy-five years of reports about what his friends have accomplished back on the moon since he left and connecting not only with his new family but with Charlie.
The movie has likable young leads, Nora Takacs Ekberg has provided it with a decent production design, and though the visual effects are hardly cutting-edge, they’re acceptable; Jas Shelton’s cinematography is fine, James W. Harrison III has edited the footage reasonably well, and the score by Dan Romer and Osei Essed catches the differing moods without getting hectoring.
But though “Crater” isn’t the pits, in the end the outer-space fable of friendship and family proves a bland affair, even when it aims to generate some excitement or touch on deeper emotional currents.