When it comes to road trips, it’s not so much about the destination as it is the journey and who you take that journey with. That sentiment rings true no matter when or where. So when it comes to a film like Disney+’s “Crater,” is that a group of friends leave the only world they know behind to go on a grand adventure across the moon to discover what lies beyond their destination and return home completely changed. And while coming-of-age storytelling has changed with passing generations, the heart and soul of finding one’s identity and forming friendships along the journey called life have not.
In a way, that journey is as much inward as it is outward, so it’s essential to see these stories and how much of a reflection it is of the world we live in today. So, despite the film’s futuristic setting, “Crater” still has a grounded feel and Gen-Z sensibilities, with the young generation imagining the world outside of the safety of a dome they live in. It’s not as though Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s lunar adventure would have the kind of foresight to know what trends in the future or what kind of slang would exist. Still, the film sees many characters of the future speak like today’s generation. And yet, it still captures the spirit of what makes these coming-of-age films resonate with all of us.
While kids on this lunar planet live carefreely but also with a heavy sense of pessimism. Because their parents are bound by a punishing 20-year contract of servitude where they must mine helium and other fuel to help transport ships to an idyllic faraway planet called Omega. It’s a 75-year journey that only the rich can access, leaving others behind. But these parents work there so their families and children can be on that planet. At least, that’s what they were told. Unfortunately, those contracts come at a high cost because if they are late, get sick, or delay production, the company adds more years to your agreement. Thus postponing any hope of reaching the planet with their family.
The tragedy is that the only way out of this contract is if you cash in on the “death benefit.” A fatal clause that allows any family member to go to Omega should the parent or parents die. It’s not an ideal fate for the newly orphaned Caleb (Isaiah Russell-Bailey), who wants to stay on the moon with his friends rather than leave for the idyllic faraway planet. So instead of living their last few days together in misery, Caleb’s best friend, Dylan (Billy Barratt), rallies fellow pals Borney (Orson Hong) and Marcus (Thomas Boyce) to fulfill Caleb’s father’s last wish to travel off of the base and find out what lies within the mysterious crater. The only hitch is that they need codes to get out of the base. And that’s where the recent Earthling arrival of Addison (McKenna Grace) comes in. Since her father is a scientist, she can get all the access codes needed to hijack a rover and escape the base.
Much of the film sees the kids being kids. They embark on this incredible journey with no adult supervision. As such, they have no sense of restraint or self-control on this adventure, as noted by their wastefulness of precious resources like oxygen. That freedom comes with some entertainment value, but it also gives way to exciting drama. The character tensions reveal some of the emotional baggage they left behind at the lunar base. As such, they fight amongst themselves and say things they cannot take back. But, simultaneously, they learn a lot about themselves and each other. Which is the way things go in these kind of coming-of-age films.
There is a lack of optimism that comes in waves that would make anyone depressed. While the film portrays the adults as knowing better and believing the kids are ignorant of the caste system, Caleb and his friends know these contracts are another way of passing the traumatic buck from generation to generation. So they see Caleb’s inevitable departure to Omega as a means to escape from it all, even if it’s only for a few days. Because in the end, they know that at least one of them will be able to truly leave it behind. So, they will make every moment count, even if some moments bring about painful memories about themselves and their families. But everyone has come to accept their destiny and that they would do anything to help Caleb fulfill his father’s dying wish. And flashbacks help give us some context for Caleb’s decisions and how his relationship with his father helped him become the person he is now.
It’s all formulaic and predictable. It can be tiresome to see how the tensions are attempts to run the clock out. If they aren’t getting themselves into trouble, they are just goofing off by being gluttonous with food they’ve never tasted and destructive when they find out they were born into a caste system. That’s all well, and good to see that these kids are still kids, even if this film takes place two centuries from now. And along the way, they learn more about the outdated but futuristic caste system meant to keep the miners at bay while the prosperous voyage to paradise. But, of course, a lot of that extra drama takes a back seat, as “Crater” is more about these kids finding the power to be the masters of their own fates even though they feel powerless to do anything about it.
“Crater” debuts exclusively on Disney+ on May 12, 2023.