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“Apollo 18” is direct-to-video at best

Posted on September 13th, 2011
Posted on September 13th, 2011

by Coop Cooper

With a large host of Apollo lunar program conspiracy theories on the internet these days, it was a matter of time before one involving aliens got the Hollywood treatment. “Apollo 18” works under the idea NASA continued the lunar program in secret after the last official mission. This film contains footage recovered from a failed mission in which all hands were lost within lunar orbit. Three U.S. astronauts (actors Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen and Ryan Robbins) document their mission with two landing in the lunar module and one circling the planetoid in the orbiter. They know the mission is top secret but even they are shocked when they discover an abandoned Soviet lunar module near their landing zone. As they begin to piece the mystery together, someone… or someTHING starts sabotaging their equipment and attacking them outside of the ship.

If you had problems with “The Blair Witch Project,” you’ll find yourself frustrated with “Apollo 18” for the same reasons. The actors have to deal with long takes which cause them to ham it up when on camera for too long. Eerie sounds spring up at convenient points to convey tension, for instance: A sudden heartbeat on the soundtrack isn’t natural when the scene is supposed to mimic reality. Plus there shouldn’t be sound in the vacuum of space. The sound design people seemed to forget that one when adding sound effects to the track (in stereo, no less).

By the end, the alien threat is a bit of a letdown and while a twist leaves it open for sequels, simple plot holes ruin it all. More disappointing, the poster for the film, which featured a big alien footprint next to an astronaut’s print on the lunar surface, turned out to be flagrant false advertising. Nothing in the film could have produced such a print, so don’t get your hopes up waiting to see a human-sized monster like in the film “Alien.”

Despite its shaky camerawork and realistic style, it comes across as phony once the story structure becomes noticeable and predictable. It is paced too professionally to be real but just poorly enough to seem fake. When an impromptu speech feels scripted or an event timed too conveniently, it takes you out of the illusion. Actors simply can’t sustain believability when they have to keep it going for extended/uncut takes, even more so when a hastily written screenplay isn’t helping them out much. Add all of this to the technical challenges facing the filmmakers on this project and you’ve got one big no-win situation.

Also, if all hands were lost within lunar orbit, how did the footage get recovered? Talk about painting logic into a corner.

I think there is one way this film could have been spectacular… As a short film. Much like the sci-fi failure “Imposter” (2001), “Apollo 18” seems to have overreached its concept and was made 50 minutes too long. “Imposter” was originally designed as a short segment in a big-budget sci-fi anthology film. Starring Gary Sinise, Madeleine Stowe and Vincent D’Onofrio, the futuristic film told the story of a human scientist (Sinise) on the run after authorities accuse him of being an enemy alien spy and a walking nuclear weapon. Taut and suspenseful with a kicker of a twist, the short was so strong, someone in charge decided to abandon the anthology idea and expand “Imposter” into a feature-length film. What a disaster. The film contained so much worthless filler to expand the running time, the magic of the short was ruined. If you can find the short online (I believe it’s also found as an extra feature on the “Imposter” feature DVD) I recommend you check it out. If someone were to cut “Apollo 18” into a 20-minute short, I have a feeling it could be one of the creepiest and most talked-about sci-fi shorts around.

Since that’s not going to happen, I recommend you check the feature out when it releases on DVD if the found-footage genre intrigues you. If you don’t watch it carefully, you might not notice all of its shortcomings and it could surprise you with some effective scares.

Rating: 2½ out of 5

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