There Was a Reason We Didn’t Go Back to the Moon. It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.

Movie Review: Apollo 18 (2011)
Summary: Three astronauts arrive on the moon and find that they are not alone.
Spoilers: none

It has become somewhat fashionable in the movie industry for film-makers to create documentaries about fictitious characters and events. These are often called “mockumentaries” and they are usually designed to spin these phantoms into conspiracy theories where “secret tapes” get found or are leaked to the media.

Apollo 18 is one such film, a mockumentary of a top-secret trip to the moon carried out from 1972-74. The movie, with only 3 uncredited cast
members appearing entirely in spliced-together “found footage,” has been compared to a space-based Blair Witch Project (1999) or Event Horizon (1997) made over documentary style. These comparisons are fair, but lest that be interpreted as praise, let’s clarify.

The three astronauts – “Walker,” “Anderson,” and “Grey” (Lloyd Owen, Warren Christie, and Ryan Robbins) – are charming and fresh faces on screen. They’ve even been given well-engrained senses of humor that fit what we’ve come to find in NASA’s most envied sojourners who liven up childhood dreams.

These men answer their country’s call of duty and leave behind their families to go to the moon. They are supposed to be family men making big sacrifices, but that point is never successfully driven home to us. Anderson takes with him a tape recording of his son playing while his wife’s voice can be heard in the background. Despite the film’s every effort, we never really care too much for the men or their families.

When they land, expecting to carry out ordinary exploration, they begin to suspect that they are not alone. With the beeps and blipped-over small-talk and jokes between the crewmen with the persistent (and sometimes grading) whines from the instrument panels, we have stage-setting for what is to come. The film gets credit for successfully building up to its extraterrestrial revelation—well, some credit.

The slow-build, high-suspense approach would have worked had our director known how to orchestrate things to a climax that matches the films 88-minute runtime, but instead, we get choppy mini-revelations of moving spider rocks seen through flickering cameras, accompanied by unexplained noises on the communication channels that, frankly, begin to annoy the hell out of us.

When these problems don’t go away but get worse, we have the discovery of a Russian vessel on the moon. But there appears to be foul play, with at least one cosmonaut dead and blood everywhere. And from there, we start to see the alien hostility we’ve been waiting for.

Our astronauts are supposed to be smart men, and to their credit, they draw the only conclusion that logic in their circumstances could warrant. When their equipment has been smashed and they can find no asteroid debris and the US flag has been shredded to pieces, the best they can think of is that some crazed second cosmonaut is out there stirring up hate.

But then, because of the writing behind the movie, we really should sympathize with these boys; barring asteroids, the crazy cosmonaut theory is way more believable than the alien-life-on-the-moon theory; there is no atmosphere up there, which means any sunlight that hits you cooks you like a steak while you freeze on your backside. There might be water for life, though not much of it, and certainly no sources of food to sustain any ecosystem whatever.

When our men fight to keep from becoming victims of these apparently very intelligent beings who have somehow survived on a dead, radioactive world of waste for who knows how long, we really start to ask questions, like: How – why – would any life on the moon be hostile to men wearing 300 pounds of very expensive gear?

These are some interesting predators; they’re intelligent and somehow have an instinct and appetite to infiltrate the bodies of aliens (we’re assuming they want to eat us and not just be malicious). And we should upgrade the question “how do we know they would like to eat us?” to “what have they been eating for the ceaseless eons before we arrived?”

The film has only a production value appreciation for science, but never tries to make us feel like any of this could actually happen, although its handling of the physics and mechanics of space flight and landing on the lunar surface are carefully handled. Everything from the way the light makes impressions on tape down to the camera angles, are well chosen.

Unfortunately, these chances are blown all to hell with a script that, despite its “bits n’ pieces” style of delivery, fails to stay the course, but gives itself away well before the end. When we already know the terrors we’re facing, we have nothing more than a space alien cheap excuse for a sci-fi without much respect for itself or its audience. Exquisite screams in a vain attempt at being memorable or scary only dig the hole deeper.

Even the film’s tagline gets it absolutely wrong—hostile alien life found on the moon would not keep mankind away; indeed, it would bring us back in mission after mission to seize and study it!

(JH)

Grade: D+ (1 ½ stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for language, violence, and gore)
Director: Gonzalo López-Gallego
Starring: “Walker” (Lloyd Owen), “Anderson” (Warren Christie), “Grey” (Ryan Robbins)
Genre: Horror / Sci-fi / Thriller
Trailer

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