Well, Disney certainly has chutzpah. You’ve got to give their creators that. It takes nothing less to title a movie “Crater.”
A name like that leaves a film wide open for general wisecrackery from cynical, middle-aged movie critics.
The thing to remember, though, is that cynical, middle-aged critics aren’t the audience for whom director Kyle Patrick Alvarez made his film. Rather, it is a wholesome, sci-fi kid adventure made for families to enjoy together, with all the slightly cornball, Disney-safe underpinnings that implies.
And although it doesn’t come close to delivering the fun of “Goonies,” “Stand By Me,” “Super 8” or other classics of the genre, it gets the job done reasonably well, in its own made-for-TV kind of way.
In fact, given its ultimate message — to treasure the memories of those who have moved on — it stands to serve as more than mere entertainment for youngsters who might be struggling with loss. For them, it might also offer a measure of emotional comfort between the outbursts of outer-space action.
Alvarez’s film was shot largely in Baton Rouge, but viewers shouldn’t expect to see anything more of the Red Stick than the “Film Baton Rouge” and “Louisiana Entertainment” logos displayed at the tail end of the closing credits. That’s because “Crater” is a soundstage movie, set in a lunar mining colony in the year 2257.
It’s there we meet Caleb Channing, a bright but grieving teenager who, we learn, has recently been orphaned by the death of his loving father. (This is a Disney film, after all. Orphanhood is basically a requirement.)
There’s a catch, though. With the death of his father, Caleb gets a free ticket to Omega, a utopian colony on an Earth-like planet 75 light years away, paid for by the mining company for which his father worked at the time of his death.
The problem is that the trip isn’t optional. That means he must leave behind his friends and the only world he’s ever known.
It also leaves him with precious little time to fulfill a promise he made to his father to visit a specific lunar crater that held a special place in his now-deceased parents’ heart.
Caleb’s not sure what he’ll find there, but a promise is a promise.
And so he enlists the help of those aforementioned friends to plan and execute a daring mission to liberate a lunar rover, venture outside the gritty, well-worn lunar biodome in which most of them have spent their entire lives and journey to the titular crater.
Naturally, there is an assortment of unforeseen perils they must surmount if their journey is to be a success. That starts with the whole oxygen situation. It also includes an impending meteor shower. Those two threats combine to provide a ticking clock for the kids to race against as they overcome various lesser, often tangential challenges, “Apollo 13”-style.
I won’t say how it ends, but I will say it deserves credit for eschewing the simplest route to some contrived Hollywood ending. “Crater” is a little more ambitious than that.
Helping in that regard is the appealing kid cast. In addition to Caleb (played by Isaiah Russell-Bailey), there’s the goofy one (Orson Hong), the brawny one (Thomas Boyce), the girly one (Mckenna Grace) and the one with a chip on his shoulder who looks like an adolescent Joe Burrow (Billy Barratt).
Grace, who at just 16 has amassed an impressive number of screen credits, is easily the most accomplished of the group. All of them, however, manage to hold their own.
All that being said, don’t expect “Crater” to earn many awards. For a movie about the value of memories, it won’t go down as particularly memorable.
Ten or 15 years ago, its visual effects might have been something approaching stunning. Today, they — like the dialogue, the pacing and pretty much every other element of the film — are only just good enough to allow audiences to suspend their disbelief.
But “just” good enough is still good enough.
To the doubtless chagrin of headline writers, it’s also probably enough to keep Alvarez’s film from cratering.
Mike Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.