Thursday, September 29, 2011

Apollo 18

Houston We Got Big Problems

Just when you thought the found footage science fiction and horror subgenre would finally run out of steam with every possible story being told, here comes another that's set in the final frontier of space, and I admit it's kinda clever for writers Cory Goodman and Brian Miller to utilize this device in a conspiracy theory type story that deals with why there are no longer any more missions to put man on the moon again, barring budget constraints, with no lack of volunteers and astronauts on payroll.

From the Blair Witch project involving discovered footage from a camera, there have been wannabes and variants, with some of the most notable being The Last Exorcism with a documentary crew following their subject for some investigative journalism, in the same way [REC] did it, and from Cloverfield's monster movie to the Paranormal Activity films which combine both the moving home camera with the static ones from CCTVs. After all from a movie making perspective most of these films are completed on a shoe-string budget and become profitable at the box office, and the challenge here is to create some original ideas to further milk this genre before they all truly run out and remakes are called into play.

Apollo 18 takes one of the cancelled missions of NASA and gives a controversial, conspiracy type spin to why the crew never made it to the Moon, by suggesting that the crew actually did so, but a massive cover up put a lid on what had transpired, with official records fabricated to hide the truth from the public. The premise is smart, but the delivery left much to be desired, despite superb production sets to recreate the look and feel of lunar landing and command modules both from the outside and within, those retro looking space suits, and the near zero gravity experience within the space crafts and during those moon walks.

One of the chief issues here is that we never really got to know the crew involved so as to provide that little bit of an emotional anchor to feel for them when things go wrong. Granted this is not Apollo 13 and neither was the bandwidth given for this to clock more than 90 minutes, but its runtime really felt excruciatingly slow given that most of the time, nothing significant happens, saving almost everything for last, and throwing the audience a couple of cheap scares every now and then. The most we get to know of the Apollo 18 crew was that they really liked their barbeque gatherings, and being called to finally get up there to the moon, in a mission sponsored by the Department of Defense, was a real honour, never mind if their project is more top secret and classified involving what they thought was installing cameras and sensors to detect Russian ICBM launches; cold war era, remember?

By staying true to that era and the plot that the footage is real and found, we get a lot of grainy, full screen presentation with plenty of static, quick cuts (edited by the filmmaker from the hours of raw material it was claimed) to highlight that sense of dread and urgency in staying alive when all else seemed to have abandoned them and the mission. The lack of stronger character development made it a little difficult to empathize with the characters when they face a brick wall in communications and with a mission threatening to go haywire, made worst when there is something else quite hostile in their midst, and contributing to a systemic failure of equipment and people. They become the inevitable fodder, though one is limited to only the crew rather than to have a mindless bloodbath just because it is possible.

Still, don't let this faux pas found footage film put you off from the glee of partaking in a conspiracy theory especially if space missions are up your alley, and meanwhile, let me look for my lunar rock and toss it out the window.

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