The Blair Witch Project
Review Date: Saturday, December 24
Released by: Anchor Bay
Release date: December 27, 2011
Widescreen 1.78 | 16x9: Yes
was hardly the first film in the ďfound footageĒ sub genre, but its breakout success certainly paved the way for imitators anxious to catch even a slice of Blair Witchís $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. Thereís 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 itís never been, or does it reach astronomical heights or awfulness? Letís moon walk this baby and find out.
December, 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, itís 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 moonís South Pole to establish an ICBM early warning system. At least, thatís what theyíre toldÖ
After 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.
That 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 cosmonautís suit Ė and the fact that until this moment nobody even knew Soviets had visited the moon - suggests he didnít die of a simple accident. Still, the astronauts didnít go to the moon to solve a murder and with their main objective achieved, itís 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 Nathanís 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.
Iím sure by now youíve noticed some of the big problems I had with this movie.
Every movie gets one, and by that I mean they get one outlandish, crazy idea that Iím willing to go along with. Vampires exist. A radioactive spider bite will give you super powers. I donít care how crazy or fanciful the idea, Iím willing to grant it to any film. I mean, if you canít accept that vampires exist for the sake of a good story, then the experience of watching Dracula
isnít going to hold a lot of meaning for you. This is suspension of disbelief. We like stories, especially fantastical ones, so weíre willing to do a little mental gymnastics in order to be told one. I guess there are stone cold literalists out there who canít 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.
Anyway, we as viewers are willing to grant suspension of disbelief pretty easily. Once weíve done that, weíve 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 weíre 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, weíre pulled out of the story because the filmmakers have violated their own logical construct and, in turn, have violated our trust.
Such is the experience of watching Apollo 18
. There an old expression: ďgive Ďem an inch and theyíll take a mile.Ē Thatís 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. Itís an unpleasant experience because you feel like your goodwill has been manipulated by fraudsters and con men.
There are a lot of things Iím willing to accept for the sake of an interesting story. Seriously, Iím 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 wouldnít 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.
Thereís 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.
What really galls me the most is the flippant and off handed way that film deals with the trip to the moon. Hereís 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 theyíre coming, thereís no way the film can build suspense. Rarely have I ever seen a movie as dull and stupid as Apollo 18
. Itís is the kind of film thatís so un-engaging you spend your time picking apart the minutiae just so your brain wonít atrophy while youíre watching it.
I donít care about piddling details; details like that the astronauts are clearly not walking around in a low gravity environment really donít 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, thatís a fault that nothing can fix.
As a point of comparison, look at Duncan Jonesí Moon
from 2009. Both films cost roughly the same amount to make (~$5 million). Theyíre 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 audienceís 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 canít even live up to its own meager aims is really quite pathetic.
Itís 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 thatís unable to elicit even the slightest tingle of the spine, much less a full-on scare.
Itís 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 doesnít 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 doesnít seem to be any compression issues. Flesh tones, colors and sharpness are all kind of moot. Letís just say that I didnít notice any flaws that werenít 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.
The audio really should have been one of two ways: either totally front heavy, mono track in keeping with period detail, or say ďfuck authenticityĒ and go balls out surround for effect. Apollo 18
tries to have it both ways and it doesnít 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 youíre hearing as real.
The main supplement is a feature audio commentary with director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego and editor Patrick Lussier. Theyíre 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 theyíre 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
isnít 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 donít begrudge you trying to sell me on your movie, but you need to do a bit better than that.
Sixteen 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 ďreveal-by-camera-flashĒ way itís done in the film proper thatís become shockingly clichťd 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?
This is almost as bad as cinema gets. Itís a particular flavor of crap meant to appeal to moon landing denialists and other anti-science, conspiracy theorist crackpots. Itís 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. Itís too bad as much effort wasnít 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.
Movie - D+
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B-
Supplements - B
- 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
- Audio Commentary with Director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego and Editor Patrick Lussier
- Deleted and Alternate Scenes
- Alternate Endings