Apollo 18 review

There's a reason we've never gone back to the moon, the tagline goes. But is there a reason to go to the cinema and watch Apollo 18? Ron finds out...

NASA’s final mission to the moon was Apollo 17, or so the scientists would have us believe. Apparently, there was another mission to the moon which no one talks about, dubbed Apollo 18, and there’s a very good reason we haven’t been back to our nearest interstellar neighbor.  Constructed from hours of leaked footage, Apollo 18 is the story of man’s REAL last trip to the moon.

As part of a top-secret mission, a trio of astronauts named Anderson, Walker, and Grey are sent to the moon. Apparently, this is a world in which NASA can shoot people into space and nobody will notice the giant flame-spewing rocket taking off from the Kennedy Space Center. Apollo 18 is carrying some motion-sensitive camera equipment to set up some kind of eye-in-the-sky to watch the surface of the moon and keep an eye on the pesky Soviets. (Apparently, his move takes place in the mid-70s, but there’s absolutely nothing about the movie that makes use of this context, aside from a few mentions of the Russians.)

Officially, the Russians never managed to land on the moon, so when the Apollo 18 crew finds a wrecked, bloody Soviet lunar module, well… something is rotten in Moonville. Was it space madness? A horrible shaving accident? Or something… more alien in nature?

The major selling point of Apollo 18 is the fact that it is constructed in found footage format, compiled into movie form by a nebulous person for ambivalent intent. How they got this footage is not explained, and I guess it really doesn’t matter.

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The movie is book-ended by interviews with the ‘real’ astronauts and closed with what is essentially the Animal House ending in which we see pictures and are told what happened to them. Indeed, the three actors in the film (Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, and Ryan Robbins) aren’t even credited to their various characters on the IMDb. Apparently, Dimension chief Bob Weinstein himself has called the film found footage, even though NASA has officially declared it all hype and refused to cooperate with the filming.

In principle, I’m not a fan of this way of constructing movies. By and large, it’s a gimmick, and it’s an unsuccessful one at that. While it makes sense that astronauts would be constantly filmed (for example, all the video footage of the real moon landings), it doesn’t make sense that they would be carrying cameras around with them even when out doing real mission-sensitive work (or while in peril for their lives, at that). I know it’s weird that that bothers me when we’re talking about a movie with some kind of moon-based threat to humanity, so maybe I’m weird.

The whole point of a found footage movie is so that you can sell it like it is real – that’s what made Blair Witch a phenomenon and what made The Fourth Kind mildly interesting from a conceptual standpoint.

Apollo 18 could have been an awesome movie; instead, it settles for mildly entertaining with an interesting ending. It’s almost like a Tarantino-style movie loaf that borrows elements from other movies and uses them as shorthand. Apollo 18 drops references to Apollo 13, Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity, Alien, Solaris, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Mission to Mars, Moon, and a particularly good episode of The Outer Limits called The Sandkings.

It’s very tough to suspend disbelief when every five minutes, a movie goes out of its way to remind you that this film is chock full of things you’ve seen before in much better works. The script, by Brian Miller, teams with director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego to sneak in as many references as they can so as to avoid having to tell a story on their own.

One good thing you can say about this movie, from a style standpoint, is that it doesn’t use a lot of shaky camerawork in lieu of building tension. Miller and Lopez-Gallego just choose not to bother with throwing any psychological weight behind their movie. I’m sure they tried, but we’re not given any reason to care about Anderson or Walker.

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However, it’s not all bad. The alien menace is interesting from a zoological standpoint, and unlike Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, they’re not overexposed. The references can be fun if you like playing Movie Bingo, and at a crisp 88 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. However, once it’s over, it’s fairly forgettable.

3 stars

US correspondent Ron Hogan has nothing witty to say about this movie. Sorry, gang. Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness, and daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

Rating:

3 out of 5