doubt there are still some benighted moviegoers who think of The Blair Witch
Project and Paranormal Activity as documentaries. The oft-postponed
release of Apollo 18 has finally arrived and will lead to similar
results. In years to come some people will claim that the moon rocks were really
the eggs of space spiders and they saw this with their own eyes . . .
What might have made
an interesting short story is padded into more than hour (plus closing credits)
of yet another “found footage” movie. The premise is that a secret Apollo
mission was launched after the official end of the project in 1972 with Apollo
Run by the Department
of Defense, it was ostensibly to set up motion detector cameras on the moon, but
the two astronauts (played by unknowns Warren Christie and Lloyd Owen) slowly
discover there’s something else going on. At first it seems like it’s just the
discovery of a secret Russian space mission, but soon we discover there may be
alien creatures on the moon, ready to infect humanity.
Of course given the
rules for this kind of film, the footage is all grainy and scratchy, sometimes
bad video, sometimes clearer. Savvy viewers will quickly note that even though
we see one of the astronauts holding a camera in a given scene, the point of
view changes during it. Are there other cameras operating? Certainly a Watergate
reference suggests that the astronauts had knowledge of presidential involvement
in the infamous break-in that had not yet been made public through the Senate
hearings, so perhaps they’re time travelers as well!
"Might have worked as a short Twilight Zone episode, but just
goes on and on as a full-length movie . . ."
It’s all a lot of hokum and
it’s easy enough to take cheap shots. It’s a small idea that might have worked
in a twenty-two minute Twilight Zone
episode, but which just goes on and on when inflated to more than three times
The actors – which
the film does reluctantly list long after most people will have left the theater
– do their best with the thin material. The effects are simple and plausible
within the preposterous premise of the movie. The last few minutes of the story,
when it becomes clear that the three astronauts (a third remains in the orbiter)
face an inevitable fate, are taut and effective. None of this makes up for
having to sit through the entire film for the final nasty twist, but give credit
where it’s due.
That said, let’s have
an end to this misbegotten subgenre of “found footage” movies. Their original
appeal to filmmakers was that they were cheap, but with most of the action
taking place in Canada (standing in for the lunar surface) the estimated $5
million budget suddenly looks extravagant. Of course compared to the almost $200
million budget for Transformers: Dark of the Moon
– with its similar plot of a secret alien moon base – it might seem like a
Yet the fact that
it’s finally being dumped on Labor Day Weekend, a traditional burial ground for
abandoned movies, suggests what the distributor really thinks of its prospects.
There looks to be
some good science fiction movies out before year’s end. Apollo 18 is not
one of them.