A heartwarming outer space adventure
Saying goodbye can be hard to do, especially when it’s a final farewell to friends you have spent your whole life with. This is the situation for Caleb (Isaiah Russell-Bailey), a young teenager living on a lunar mining colony who is told he will soon be leaving the place he has called home since birth.
Caleb has to leave the colony due to a death benefit in his father’s contract that stipulates he must depart his home and move to the utopian planet of Omega should all his family members die. As his father has recently passed away in a mining accident, and as his mother died several years earlier, the time for his departure is imminent. But despite the promise of a better future, he doesn’t want to leave his besties!
What’s worse is the fact that Caleb will lose touch with his friends as the journey to Omega will require him to be cryogenically frozen for 75 years. When he eventually arrives at his destination, he will still be the age he was at departure while his faraway pals will have lived a whole lifetime without him.
It’s a sad situation for him to be in but he doesn’t want his final few days with his friends to be upsetting. Instead, he wants to go on one last adventure with them to the titular crater that his father had always wanted him to see. One of Caleb’s friends thinks the crater is home to hidden treasure but due to the stories his father has told him, the orphaned young teen believes it might actually hold something of greater significance.
What does the crater contain? We aren’t going to reveal the answer here. But as is the case with most coming-of-age adventure movies like this one, such as The Goonies and Stand By Me, the journey these friends undertake is far more important than the final destination.
Caleb is the movie’s main character but his friends get equal screen time. These include his best friend Dylan (Billy Barratt), a confident young man that Caleb met years before when raiding a giant refrigerator in search of a late-night snack; Borney (Orson Hong), a caring young boy who is a bit of a worrywart because of the lies fed to him by his brother; Marcus (Thomas Boyce), a gentle giant with a heart condition; and Addison (Mckenna Grace), who has recently arrived on the colony and who is initially seen as a bit of a stick in the mud by the boys.
The kids are all likeable characters so it’s easy for us to warm to each of them. The young cast who take on the roles of these lunar adventurers all give excellent performances so there is no weak link to divert us away from the story and our attachment to this plucky band of youngsters.
Our protagonists get into various scrapes on their journey, including two near encounters with death; one involving a game called ‘launch-off’ that perilously sends them flying into orbit, and the other a suspenseful race against time where they must race to get back to their buggy before they are crushed by falling rocks during a meteor shower. But while these moments are tense and exciting, you shouldn’t expect a movie that is overloaded with scenes of adventure and derring-do. Instead, screenwriter John Griffin and director Kyle Patrick Alvarez take a more thoughtful approach by slowing down the action to explore the emotional connections that tie this group of friends together.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the decision to dial down the fun to focus on the bond these friends have as it allows us to understand the strength of their friendship and the reasons why the upcoming goodbye will be hard for them. However, this also causes the movie to be unnecessarily bleak at times, partly because each member of this young group has a sad backstory.
Addison is a child of divorce who was separated from her brother and mother when they were put into cryogenic sleep for their journey to Omega. Marcus has a bad heart, meaning he might die if he doesn’t take his medication. Borney has a brother who regularly makes up stories to mess with his head. Dylan was left to live with his mom after his ‘cowardly’ dad snuck onto a space shuttle to make the journey back to Earth. And then, of course, there’s Caleb, who has recently been orphaned.
Did we really need all this heartbreak? The movie is sad enough because of Caleb’s situation so it may have been wiser to lighten the mood a little with more scenes of them laughing and enjoying life together instead of the piled-on scenes of backstory exposition.
That being said, the movie can still be recommended to younger audiences. For once, we don’t have a kid’s movie that resorts to silly scenes of slapstick, unconvincing escapades, and a convenient happy ending. Instead, we have a movie that isn’t afraid to focus more on conversation than action to explore themes that are relevant to a lot of children today, including divorce, grief, and uncertainties about the future. As such, I can kind of understand why the screenwriter decided to give each of the kids a traumatic story to tell, although I still wish he had allowed for a few more scenes of levity during the movie’s runtime.
Crater is a decent movie, despite the sometimes sombre tone with a fine ensemble cast that brings to life characters we have no trouble rooting for. The story is both heartwarming and heartwrenching, with a punch-in-the-gut ending that will likely move you to tears. And the effects work is mostly well-realised, bar the meteor shower scene that fails to be as spectacular (and as terrifying) as it could have been.
Time spent with these kids is not time wasted and like Caleb, you might feel a sense of loss when the movie finally draws to a close. It’s not perfect but as it doesn’t speak down to its tween audience, it has more to offer than those kid’s movies that favour daft hijinks over meaningful characterisations.
Verdict - 7/10