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Apollo 18

September 4, 2011
Apollo 18

As a rule, “found footage” films are cop-outs. They use the conceit to sweep all manner of celluloid sins under the rug. We don’t need good quality equipment or writing or acting or anything because this All Really Happened, Guys. We don’t even need anything scary to happen, because shaking the camera around a lot and screaming is supposed to create all the atmosphere we need. This is crap, and it has been since the overhyped run-up to The Blair Witch Project, for which — full disclosure — I was in the front row of the premiere showing at the Charles Theater in Baltimore.

Now in Blair Witch, some mildly creepy things happened, and the filmmakers got a bit of milage by actually scaring the actors themselves. Nobody really tried too hard with the pretense after that until the dreadful Paranormal Activity series, which is changing up its third installment by having something actually happen. And now producer Timur Bekmambetov and the Weinsteins bring us Apollo 18, or “Blair Witch in space”.

The story goes that after the United States terminated the Apollo program after Apollo 17, they flew one last super-secret mission for the Department of Defense. Crewed by Commander Nathan Walker (Lloyd Owen), Lunar Module pilot Benjamin Anderson (Warren Christie), and Command Module pilot John Grey (Ryan Robbins), they were to land near the lunar south pole to deploy some sort of machinery.

But after Walker and Anderson land, things start going wrong. Power blips and interference show up across the footage being captured by about a dozen film and video cameras. Then they find a Soviet-made LK lander, along with a dead cosmonaut in a crater nearby. And then things start getting weird.

To say that the whole setup is preposterous is putting it mildly. The Russians never finished the N-1 rocket, which would have been the equivalent of the Saturn V, and so they couldn’t have gotten an LK to the moon in the first place. The idea that another Apollo mission could have gone unnoticed is even less believable; even if they create a cover story to explain the launch of a Saturn V, and even if the Russians were in on the plan, any number of amateur and professional astronomers would easily notice a satellite heading for lunar orbit, even if they weren’t particularly looking for it. And I won’t go into exactly where the film leaves off, but there is absolutely no explanation of how all this footage managed to get back to Earth to be edited down into a movie. I hate to say it, but I could sooner believe that Apollo 11 did some secret exploration than this story.

The thing is, this isn’t really a bad idea, and the “found footage” conceit for once isn’t being used to cut every corner in sight. If something weird were found on the moon by an Apollo mission, it would be recorded by exactly this sort of equipment; definitely not by 3-D high-definition cameras. And the filmmakers did put in a lot of attention to detail, getting a lot right about how the Lunar Module and other equipment looked. The one physical detail they really seem to have screwed up on is gravity, which is ironic since that’s one of the biggest points of contention among conspiracy theorists who deny the moon landings took place at all.

So why, then, with a decent premise, good production values, and capable actors, do Bekmambetov and the Weinsteins insist on the pretense that this really is found footage from a secret Apollo mission? All the most gaping of its plot holes come down to the fact that this story doesn’t remotely hold together as part of actual reality. And if you really want to get people to believe you, don’t add non-diagetic sound effects, don’t add obvious post-processing to the film, and definitely don’t hire actors with recurring roles on multiple SyFy-produced television shows.

Or, better yet, do all of these things. Make a good movie with an unconventional visual and auditory aesthetic; tweak it gently for effect at the high points; tie in with a vault of supporting background material, like that at the currently-overloaded “lunartruth.org”; and be proud of a job well done. All this pretense tells me is that you think I’m a drooling moron.

Worth It: hard to say. The marketing is insulting, but the product isn’t bad. Just don’t believe a word of it.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 5, 2011 00:23

    Actually, if your that up on the movie industry…..the marketing they used is a new form of marketing that’s the lying truth. Fourth Kind, Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity, and Apollo 18 movies are all movies that are marketed as “true events” and “real footage”. The filmakers know that you know it’s not real. They market as such to get you, the viewer, to question whether it’s real, and if they were REALLY wanting you to believe it was real, they most CERTAINLY wouldn’t use actors that are known at all. Your assumption that they REALLY want you to believe that it’s “real”, shows you must think THEY are drooling morons. It’s all part of the marketing that goes along with it. It’s meant to just be a fun ride with some scares and thrills. The Soviets being on the moon is also part of the story. That they never finished the N1 rocket is irrelevant, because in THIS Apollo 18 movie world, they DID finish the N1 rocket, and simply kept it secret. They don’t ACTUALLY want you to believe that the Soviets made it to the moon….it’s all part of the entertainment, and the fact that you are calling them out, is what they wanted. That is part of the fun about this movie.

    Any space buffs will find this movie fun. This website’s movie reviewer is right….don’t believe a word of it, but that is the most obvious part of this movie….that it’s not real, and the biggest mistake is thinking the film makers WANT you to believe its real. You MUST go into this movie knowing it’s not actually real footage, because you will end up not enjoying your self, by picking away at details like, NOTHING can live in the vacuum of space that moves especially on the moon, or that the Soviets never made it to the moon (DUH), or that nothing can attack move themselves when in zero G’s while in orbit, OR…..well, you get my point.

    Go into this movie knowing that it’s not real, and that the film makers didn’t REALLY expect you to believe it was real (which can be found out almost immediately upon watching), and that the marketing is just a new form picked up from Blair Witch’s “true fiction” marketing.
    True Fiction is what it is. I personally thought it was great. I am very knowledgeable of space flight, and the Nasa moon missions, and still had a good time with it, and I’ll be the first to say that you don’t have to know a whole lot about space flight and the moon missions to know that A) know it’s not “actual footage” and B) that it’s a fun movie, with scary suspense and creepy thrills.
    7.5 out of 10

    NOTE TO MODERATOR: Sorry, posted this originally in the Sunday Samples 240 section…sorry!!! =D

  2. September 5, 2011 08:14

    You still haven’t explained why they insist on keeping up the elaborate charade, even though it’s obviously false. Bob Weinstein insists in interviews that the footage was found, not shot by them. There’s a word on the internet for someone who tells an obvious and pointless lie, and keeps it up long past the point sensible people quickly catch on to it: a troll.

    Oh, and try to write your concluding assessments a little more like marketing pull-quotes next time.

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