Apollo 18

Discussion in 'DVDs' started by Chunkblower, Dec 24, 2011.

  1. Chunkblower

    Chunkblower Member

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    [​IMG] Reviewer: Chunkblower
    Review Date: Saturday, December 24

    Format: DVD
    Released by: Anchor Bay
    Release date: December 27, 2011
    MSRP: $29.98
    Region 1
    Progressive Scan
    Widescreen 1.78 | 16x9: Yes
    2011

    inline ImageThe Blair Witch Project was hardly the first film in the “found footage” sub genre, but its breakout success certainly paved the way for imitators anxious to catch even a slice of Blair Witch’s $250 million worldwide gross. Some were pretty good (Paranormal Activity), some not so good (The Last Exorcism). All, however, have contributed to fatiguing this very gimmicky and self-limiting conceit to the point of exhaustion. There’s only so much you can do with the format and truly clever implementations have been few and far between.

    Of course, none of those movies took place on the moon.

    If space is where horror franchises go to die, then surely Apollo 18 signifies the nail in the pseudo-documentary style of Blair Witch and its heirs apparent. Does Apollo 18 take horror boldly where it’s never been, or does it reach astronomical heights or awfulness? Let’s moon walk this baby and find out.

    The Story

    inline ImageDecember, 1974. Public interest in the space program and moon landings has waned. With the public eye turned elsewhere, the Department of Defense seizes the opportunity to reschedule the cancelled Apollo 18 mission. This time, however, it’s not a voyage of scientific discovery. The Apollo astronauts, Captain Ben Anderson (Warren Christie), Lieutenant Colonel John Grey (Ryan Robbins) and Commander Nathan Walker (Lloyd Owen), are being sent to the moon’s South Pole to establish an ICBM early warning system. At least, that’s what they’re told…

    inline ImageAfter a relatively uneventful trip to the moon, the Lunar Exploration Module sets down on the surface with Ben and Nate on board. Grey remains in the orbiter to maintain communications with Earth and to rendezvous with the lander when it ascends into orbit after completing its mission. Ben and Nate exit the lander and begin setting up the motion controlled camera systems and take samples of moon rocks.


    inline ImageThat night, while sleeping in the LEM, the astronauts hear a high pitched clicking noise and find one of the moon rock samples that had been put in storage inexplicably sitting on the floor. On their next exploration of the lunar surface, they find a heretofore unknown Soviet lander, beaten and bloody but by all accounts still functional. They also find a deep crater with a more grisly discovery: the corpse of a cosmonaut. The condition of the cosmonaut’s suit – and the fact that until this moment nobody even knew Soviets had visited the moon - suggests he didn’t die of a simple accident. Still, the astronauts didn’t go to the moon to solve a murder and with their main objective achieved, it’s time to return to Earth. When they try to take off, the LEM suffers inexplicable damage that prevents their successful take off. When an unknown life form finds its way into Nathan’s suit and starts burrowing into his body, the men can no longer ignore the obvious: the moon is not uninhabited and its residents are not friendly.

    I’m sure by now you’ve noticed some of the big problems I had with this movie.

    inline ImageEvery movie gets one, and by that I mean they get one outlandish, crazy idea that I’m willing to go along with. Vampires exist. A radioactive spider bite will give you super powers. I don’t care how crazy or fanciful the idea, I’m willing to grant it to any film. I mean, if you can’t accept that vampires exist for the sake of a good story, then the experience of watching Dracula isn’t going to hold a lot of meaning for you. This is suspension of disbelief. We like stories, especially fantastical ones, so we’re willing to do a little mental gymnastics in order to be told one. I guess there are stone cold literalists out there who can’t accept anything fun or fantastic, but they should just not watch anything ever and concern themselves with memorizing actuary tables and reading the phone book.

    inline ImageAnyway, we as viewers are willing to grant suspension of disbelief pretty easily. Once we’ve done that, we’ve entered into a trust with the film maker. Kind of like the social contract, really. We agree to accept on faith their premise, provided they develop that premise in a reasonably logical and consistent way. If we’re watching Lord of the Rings we can believe in the Hobbits and their journey to Mordor, and all the orcs, trolls and Balrogs that entails. The moment Frodo pulls out an Uzi, however, we’re pulled out of the story because the filmmakers have violated their own logical construct and, in turn, have violated our trust.

    inline ImageSuch is the experience of watching Apollo 18. There an old expression: “give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a mile.” That’s what the filmmakers do with our disbelief in Apollo 18. The premise is absurd enough, but then the filmmakers layer on conflict and complication, they keep trying to get you to suspend your disbelief ever further until it, and the film itself, come crashing to Earth. It’s an unpleasant experience because you feel like your goodwill has been manipulated by fraudsters and con men.

    There are a lot of things I’m willing to accept for the sake of an interesting story. Seriously, I’m willing to accept the following:
    • That NASA was able to launch a Saturn V rocket in absolute secrecy and was able to maintain that secrecy for forty years.
    • That the American Department of Defense would use the cover story of establishing an ICBM early warning system on the moon, and the astronauts wouldn’t call them on its utterly bullshit ineffectiveness.
    • That the astronauts on Apollo 18 recorded every moment of their trip.
    • That the moon is populated by parasitic alien crabs that look like igneous rocks.
    • That, despite the mission failing, all the astronauts dying and both the lunar lander and the orbital vehicle being destroyed, the footage recorded by the astronauts somehow made it back to Earth.

    What I cannot accept, is all of these things happening in THE SAME MOVIE.

    There’s only so much disbelief that can be suspended, only so far credibility can be stretched until it utterly shatters and Apollo 18 reaches that point before the halfway mark of the film.

    inline ImageWhat really galls me the most is the flippant and off handed way that film deals with the trip to the moon. Here’s arguably the most perilous journey humanity has ever undertaken. There are so many opportunities to milk suspense from a moon mission, and the filmmakers gloss over it with one minute of screen time to get the astronauts to the moon quicker, presumably so they can wait around for the lunar rock crab thingies to appear. Since we have no frame of reference for these creatures, and no idea that they’re coming, there’s no way the film can build suspense. Rarely have I ever seen a movie as dull and stupid as Apollo 18. It’s is the kind of film that’s so un-engaging you spend your time picking apart the minutiae just so your brain won’t atrophy while you’re watching it.

    inline ImageI don’t care about piddling details; details like that the astronauts are clearly not walking around in a low gravity environment really don’t matter to me. Apollo 18, however, is a failure at the conceptual level. You can cut around bad acting or subpar special effects, but when your film is based on a ridiculous and unbelievable premise, developed in the most insulting illogical way, that’s a fault that nothing can fix.

    inline ImageAs a point of comparison, look at Duncan Jones’ Moon from 2009. Both films cost roughly the same amount to make (~$5 million). They’re both essentially single set plays performed with a minimal cast. Yet Moon is a far better film because it develops its main character, treats the audience’s intelligence with respect and deals with some heady themes rather than pandering for cheap effect. What does Apollo 18 do besides trying (and utterly failing) to engineer some cheap scares? Comparing the two films shows that budget should be no barrier to intelligence. That Apollo 18 shoots so low and can’t even live up to its own meager aims is really quite pathetic.

    inline ImageIt’s too bad, too. The production is top flight. The costumes, the interiors of the space craft and even the lunar surface are all (mostly) convincing and accurate in their period detail. The actors do what they can with what they have. No complaints leveled their way. They are totally let down by the idiotic screenplay and tepid direction that’s unable to elicit even the slightest tingle of the spine, much less a full-on scare.

    Image Quality

    inline ImageIt’s a found footage movie, so the video standards are a bit different. The way the film has been processed, manipulated and artificially aged is actually quite impressive. It doesn’t look like these effects were added in post and the footage has a pretty strong authenticity to it, save for a few obvious model shots. The transfer reproduces all the grain, dirt, scratches and defects well. There doesn’t seem to be any compression issues. Flesh tones, colors and sharpness are all kind of moot. Let’s just say that I didn’t notice any flaws that weren’t intentional.

    On a slightly different note, the aspect ratio is variable, with the actual viewing area of the screen switching from 1.33 to 1.66. This is done, I assume, to add authenticity to the footage, but the changing aspect from shot to shot just further calls attention to the artifice of the whole premise.


    Sound

    inline ImageThe audio really should have been one of two ways: either totally front heavy, mono track in keeping with period detail, or say “fuck authenticity” and go balls out surround for effect. Apollo 18 tries to have it both ways and it doesn’t really work. The film is front heavy for the most part but when the surrounds open up so you can hear the skittering of the crab aliens, it prevents you from subconsciously buying what you’re hearing as real.

    Supplemental Material

    inline ImageThe main supplement is a feature audio commentary with director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego and editor Patrick Lussier. They’re a little too into the movie, but they have some great technical info about how the awesome aged look of the film was achieved. They offer some anecdotes, but they’re mostly very interesting. Lussier is almost always fun to listen to and Lopez-Gallego is pretty engaging, despite struggling with his English. It sounds like the movie was an absolute nightmare to cut together. They do, however, pull out the ridiculous argument than Apollo 18 isn’t at all like Paranormal Activity because Paranormal Activity takes place in a house, while Apollo 18 takes place in a space capsule. Seriously, guys; I don’t begrudge you trying to sell me on your movie, but you need to do a bit better than that.

    inline ImageSixteen Deleted and Extended Scenes (20:27) are also included, most of which were justifiably cut from the final version. I did like the alternate reveal of the cosmonaut, half buried in silt on the surface of the moon, far more than the version they used in the final film. The alternate version is much subtler and actually winds up being creepier than the “reveal-by-camera-flash” way it’s done in the film proper that’s become shockingly clichéd by now.

    Four Alternate Endings (4:42) that are all different ways for Anderson to die and none explain the big question: how did the footage the astronauts shot make its way back to Earth?

    Final Thoughts

    inline ImageThis is almost as bad as cinema gets. It’s a particular flavor of crap meant to appeal to moon landing denialists and other anti-science, conspiracy theorist crackpots. It’s too bad because the movie boasts some fantastic sets and an amazing vintage film look. The craftspeople behind the visual aspects of the film certainly deserve all the credit you can imagine. It’s too bad as much effort wasn’t put into the writing. At the very least, this total misfire might serve as a proof-of-concept failure for, and thus save us from, Paranormal Activity 12: Ghosts in Space, should that franchise ever reach Leprechaun-ian levels of desperation.

    Rating

    [​IMG] Movie - D+

    Image Quality - A-

    Sound - B-

    Supplements - B


    Technical Info.
    • Colour
    • Running time - 1 hour and 27 minutes
    • Rated PG-13
    • 1 Disc
    • Chapter Stops
    • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio
    • English SDH subtitles
    • Spanish subtitles
    Supplemental Material
    • Audio Commentary with Director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego and Editor Patrick Lussier
    • Deleted and Alternate Scenes
    • Alternate Endings
     

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