Apollo 18 (2011)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2011-09-05 02:50

Written by: Brian Miller, Cory Goodman
Directed by: Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego
Starring: Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, and Ryan Robbins

Reviewed by: Brett G.

There's a reason we've never gone back to the moon.

For a while there, it looked like we might actually go back to the moon before Apollo 18 ever got released. After going into production a couple of years ago, it was given one release date after another until the Weinsteins finally decided to dump it into theaters this past weekend (in the intermittent months, NASA actually shut down its shuttle program, so the film can actually claim victory in that respect). Capitalizing on both the recent found footage trend and that pocket of lunar conspiracy theorists, Apollo 18 dares to ask why we havenít gone back to the moon since 1972 (you know, besides the obvious reasons--the end of the Cold War, declining national interest, budget cuts, etc.).

The film takes us back to 1974, where three astronauts are hastily called into duty by the Department of Defense, who decides to shoot them up to the moon to collect moon rocks and set up a missile defense detection system. Thatís what theyíre told anyway, as, once they actually get up there, the astronauts begin to suspect something much more nefarious at work. These suspicions are validated when they discover they arenít alone; not only have the Russians made it to the moon before, but they were also greeted by something extraterrestrial and malicious.

Despite the interesting concept and its merger with the found footage aesthetic, Apollo 18 is an unfortunate, plodding bore that never amounts to much of anything. Itís easy to see why it bounced around on the calendar for so long because it matches its setting perfectly: dry, desolate, and, ultimately, vacant. For the past few years, Iíve had to put up with people saying Paranormal Activity is nothing but watching shit move around in spooky fashion, but, you know, at least it does that. Apollo 18 is basically comprised of two astronauts engaging in small talk with each other and their superiors over a radio; theyíre almost always accompanied by a humming, static din that lulls you to sleep. It doesnít help that theyíre primarily engaged with technical jargon that only serves to distance us from them; occasionally, the film reminds us that these are family men with some sappy, predictable references to their wives and kids. Itís already too late by then, though, because I found little reason to care for their plight.

This is all sort of mystifying, especially considering the found footage angle; usually, that technique brings a sense of immersion and immediacy to a film, but it really doesnít do much here. Maybe itís because itís not a traditional employment of it; instead of exclusively using handicam POV shots, we get multiple angles from cameras that have been retrofitted to the lunar modules and such. And I canít really say itís all poorly put together--this isnít an aggressively bad film at all, at least from a technical standpoint; I actually enjoyed its commitment to its aesthetic--the print is often scuffed and scratchy, and the film actually captures a genuine eeriness in its setting. Space is a vast, empty place, and the isolation and claustrophobia are sometimes palatable. I just found myself wishing it was being used in a more interesting film.

Movies like this do actually thrive on minimalism and holding back its scares; they work best when youíre questioning those fleeting, creepy moments. Apollo 18 needs more of those; Iíd hesitate to say it even has a real money shot, but thatís probably just because its eventual reveal is quite underwhelming. Perhaps in its commitment to realism, it never goes off the rails and prefers to keep its monster understated and even a little clinical; however, itís also just another dull aspect of an already dull movie, which only occasionally perks up and demands your interest. Neither its characters nor its events are particularly compelling; the found footage aspect may actually be a hindrance because thereís probably a great, goofy monster movie to be found in this premise. Instead, this one is forced to play it so straight-laced that itís stultified by tedium (which wouldnít be an altogether bad thing if the film chose to focus on how such an existence wears on the psyche).

Itís been a bad year for revisionist, conspiracy-driven lunar flicks; Transformers 3 was the first to try its big, clunky hand at it. Whereas it failed miserably, Apollo 18 just lumbers about and snoozes right along to its predicable ending (thereís always an obvious reason the footage in these movies is ďfoundĒ and not ďdeliveredĒ). In this case, the footage has supposedly been found and uploaded by a website called Lunar Truth, which the film implores you to visit; Iím guessing itís supposed to be a part of the filmís viral marketing campaign, but the connection is currently timing out; that seems appropriate enough, I guess, and something tells me the Weinsteins decided to save a couple of marketing bucks for a film they obviously had no faith in anyway.* Rent it!

*Or maybe NASA decided to take the website down because it hit too close to the truth--it's a conspiracy, man (actually, thatíd be a clever bit of marketing that would eclipse** anything in the movie itself).

**Pun very much intended

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