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Apollo 18

September 5, 2011

Apollo 18 would like for you to believe that the events that took place in the film were real, whether you believe that notion through its documentary style of directing and editing or by the films use of an epilogue to disclose the conclusion of the U.S.’s supposed “last trip” to the moon. If you let Director Gonzalez Lopez-Gallego tell it, the cancelled U.S. space mission for Apollo 18 actually happened in 1974 when three astronauts, Nate Walker (Lloyd Owen), Ben Anderson (Warren Christie) and John Grey (Ryan Robbins) all boarded Apollo 18 to go to the Moon to collect moon rocks and further space exploration. However, once the trio land on the moon they start to discover that something is amiss as their communication with the base is interrupted and they discover the dead body and abandoned, bloody spacecraft of a Soviet astronaut. The trio must find a way to escape the dangers of the moon as they quickly realize they are on their own and in space no one can hear your scream. The film even ends with a link inviting viewers to learn the truth of the mission, a truth that if you believe I’d say it’s safe to assume you also believe the Holocaust was a hoax, 9/11 was an inside job and Santa Claus vacations in Florida during the summer.

Initially Apollo 18’s attention to detail through its aesthetics is its most pleasing moments. The film is rough and gritty looking as much of it emulates the grainy and authentic appearance of actual space footage from the late 60s and early 70s. Much of Apollo 18 seems to have been shot on 16mm film while footage from real life space missions are edited into the film making the first half of Apollo 18 seem realistic and genuine. Much like real found footage, the film often jumps and has momentary lapsed cuts with certain scenes being cut in the middle of its action to further the effect.

The films look of gritty and unstable aesthetics, however, is cool for about 10 minutes and then becomes annoyingly inconsistent. Because the film is comprised of “found footage” the images are revealed to come from a handheld 16mm camera possessed by Anderson and Walker, cameras inside of their lunar module, on their lunar rover, and a few other random and unexplained cameras on random and explained objects. Audiences can’t help but wonder who is responsible for capturing certain parts of the film as well as how were close ups and moving shots captured when the characters themselves aren’t the ones filming.

Apart from the inconsistent style of filming, Apollo 18’s biggest flaw is its underdeveloped story and characters. I give the film kudos for attempting to create empathy for the main characters by giving Anderson a reason to fight to make it back to Earth to see his wife and son, but screenplay writer Brian Miller is obviously unaware that merely mentioning a wife and son doesn’t make audiences sad that a character won’t get to see them. The lines are so constructed and delivered so theatrically that if you were to close your eyes you can actually see the table reading the actors was involved in during pre-production. The characters also react flatly to their fate at times and don’t portray the fear and uncertainty needed for audiences to believe and care about the danger of their situation.

About a 3rd of the way into the film I realized that Apollo 18 was still going on as I had gotten lost in my own train of thought debating what I was going to each for lunch. It was between a tasty green chicken curry complete with green beans and bamboo shoots from a Thai restaurant or cheap mall chicken teriyaki. Either way both dishes would have been enough to eat for lunch while having enough left over for dinner, but the dilemma was whether I was willing to spend $8 on the always amazing green curry or just deal with spending $5 on the slightly above average teriyaki. The mental debate over food wasn’t because I was hungry, for at the time of watching the film I wasn’t, the debate happened because I found myself so bored and uninterested with was going on screen that food was far more interesting to think about. Yes action takes place throughout Apollo 18 but its spread out and minimal while the dialogue and situations taking place between the action is lackluster and doesn’t demand attention.

I can deal with a film being a mock documentary and even imitating found footage but what I can’t deal with is crack pot conspiracies being forced down my throat—and this is coming from a person who lives by conspiracies. The film ends rather smugly updating viewers on the fate of the three men as well as the fate of moon rocks and samples that were retrieved by previous Apollo missions. Apollo 18 ends by telling viewers to visit to discover what really happened with Apollo missions and the rocks retrieved from moon exploration.

Apollo 18 is one part Paranormal Activity, one part Blair Witch Project, and two parts shit. It’s a film that likes the smell of its own farts and wants others to enjoy the smell as well no matter how bad it is. It’s not an awful film as there are some great jump scenes and impressive moments but its denial of being a fictional film and its lack of strength in story and character development makes me wish this film was put on a space ship and deserted in the farthest crater of the moon.

AVOID IT. Hitting yourself in the head with a moon rock would be more entertaining.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Elio P. permalink
    January 8, 2012 3:38 PM

    I thought it was a much more real version of “Aliens”, just as a pure scifi flick, very suspenseful. Do you have an anti-conspiracy axe to grind? Then to even entertain that this is supposed to be true, raises the movie goer to a new level of horror flick. Kind of like the Exorcist is to every faithful Christian. For babyboomers who actually saw hour after hour of the first moon landing on TV, and not in Avatar computer animation HD 3D etc, it added to the reality… Very good movie!

    • January 8, 2012 4:46 PM

      Thank you for reading and commenting! I can understand your point. I personally love this type of “horror”/sci-fi film so I’ve seen a considerable amount in the past few years. Because of that however, I found Apollo 18 to be subpar in its shooting style when compared to the others before it. Also the overall story and characters just weren’t interesting enough to make me care what was going on. I don’t mind a conspiracy element thrown into a film but I dislike when it’s not done well. Had the movie been sharper and better developed the conspiracy aspect may have worked for me. I’m glad you enjoyed it though, thanks again for the reply!

  2. January 12, 2012 6:29 PM

    I have just got round to seeing this and felt disappointed with it. I found that I spent the entire film waiting for something revelatory to happen only to see some fairly poor cgi spider rocks. The production design and the way it was shot was great although as you’ve mentioned there were a few spurious shots from extra cameras not held by the main actors. I wish they would drop the “this is real” angle and have included some behind the scenes docs on the dvd as they’ve clearly gone to great efforts to reproduce both the technology and sections of the lunar landscape. Overall I think it lacked direction and got old fairly quickly, which is a shame as unlike a lot of modern film makers they’ve clearly put a lot of effort in to the production of the film if only at the expense of a solid story line and characters you actually care about.

    • January 13, 2012 10:34 PM

      Thanks for the comment! And yes I completely agree, had they thrown out the attempt to make it look authentic and shaped up the character development then it could have been the fantastic sci-fi thriller that I hoped it would be. It had so much potential but just ultimately failed.

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