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Monday, September 12, 2011  

M. Ovie Reviews: Apollo 18

There are a few hard and fast rules about the "found footage" genre of movies. You know, those movies like The Blair Witch Project where the main characters are also the ones who ostensibly did the filming. I've seen enough of these to be able to go through the rules for you here.

1. There must be a reason for the footage to have been recorded in the first place. In Blair Witch and Troll Hunter, the main characters include documentary film crews. In Cloverfield, Hud is tasked with being the videographer for his friend's going-away party and finds himself documenting an alien invasion. In Paranormal Activity, Micah is a tech-savvy know-it-all tool. So it goes. In Apollo 18, the protagonists are astronauts, who are seem under a mandate to film nearly every moment of their mission. As astronauts do, when not performing calculus in their heads and working with equipment more temperamental than a TiVo.

2. You can't recognize anyone in the cast as actors you know. They all have to be unknowns, to maintain the fiction that what you're watching actually occurred. If they perform under their real names, so much the better. You probably still can't name a single cast member of any of the films I mentioned above, can you? In Apollo 18, the lead actor happens to be on Alphas, but I'll give it a pass because I'm the only person who watches that show (and I get paid to do so).

3. There has to be some way for the "found footage" to have been "found," or "recovered," or "released," or something. I hope it's not giving too much away to say that Apollo 18 doesn't really pull this off.

4. The main characters have to get deeper into their problem and make it worse for themselves long after any intelligent person would have thought better of it. This is fine when most of the people in this type of movie are idiots, as they often are, but it doesn't quite follow when the characters are astronauts, members of America's best and brightest who graduated at the tops of their classes and bested hundreds of other candidates for every mission. Although that might have something to do with why these astronauts were chosen for this mission, now that I think about it.

Again, I find myself lured into the theater by a fascinating concept that proves to have a disappointingly low level of imagination in the execution. How awesome is the idea of a secret moon mission? It's like the opposite of Capricorn One. And the fact that weird shit starts going down? It's the ultimate locked-room mystery, with the room 250,000 miles away. The problem, as it turns out, is that you need a suspect, and the movie's solution to that problem on a world with nothing but rocks is…clever, but problematic.

That's not to say that it isn't a fairly decent bit of filmmaking. It gives you some good, hard jumps, and it makes good use of the claustrophobic setting. For the vast bulk of the film, the astronauts are sealed inside something, whether it be a spacesuit or the interior of an equipment-packed LEM the size of a pup tent. But one does get tired of all the bursts of visual static and audio interference, which are relied on too often to produce scares all on their own. Static isn't that scary now, and it was even less scary in 1974 when you and your siblings used to argue about who had to stand next to the TV to hold the antenna.

The claustrophobic setting must be why the actors don't really stretch out much. The guy playing the mission commander has a good glower that never seems to go away, while Warren Christie scrunches up his otherwise blank, ill-shaven face every once in a while to connote anguish like he does on Alphas, although here he does it with increasing frequency as things go increasingly pear-shaped. They also become less believable. I'm not a xenobiologist, but I've done enough reading about NASA history to know that deviations from mission profile like we see here can make things go wrong even faster and more irrevocably than they do in Apollo 18.

I admit it left me with that lingering sense of curiosity that is probably the fifth rule of found footage movies. I did try to access the companion website, LunarTruth.com, and maybe I'll even see a couple of the first Apollo movies. 13 was pretty good, so some of the others probably are as well.

posted by M. Giant 6:53 PM 1 comments


Apollo 18 seems an interesting movie. After reading your post I find this movie is full of curiosity and suspense. I quite like the 4 points you mentioned in your post.I haven't seen the movie yet but surely going to watch it.

By Anonymous Apollo 18, at October 19, 2011 at 12:02 PM  

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