Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: Apollo 18

Despite my utter disdain for 'The Blair Witch Project', the film that kick-started the genre, I've actually found myself with a serious fondness for found-footage horror movies. I loved 'Cloverfield', I adored 'Quarantine', I...well, okay, I ignored 'Paranormal Activity', but I said I was fond of the genre. I never said I was indiscriminate about it.

Given that, when 'Apollo 18' popped up on my radar, I made a mental note to give it a watch as soon as I got the opportunity. That turned out to be a Redbox rental well after it made its short, ill-received trip through theaters, but the drubbing the critics gave the film didn't dissuade me. I figured I'd give it a watch, and worst-case scenario, I'd be out a buck and 90 minutes.

Honestly, I wound up being pleasantly surprised. The movie does a lot of things right; the footage genuinely does look like NASA film from the 1970s in ways both large and small. The astronauts look like actual astronauts, not movie stars pretending to be astronauts. The jargon sounds right and isn't over-explained in a Hollywood way. The equipment looks authentic. The banter sounds like the kind of warmed-over private jokes that test pilots come up with, not like the over-polished work of a screenwriter. Even the film stock has that grainy quality you associate with shots from other moon landings. You can genuinely believe the opening statement that there's 84 more hours of this stuff lying around somewhere.

(That said, this may be part of the reason the film didn't do well in theaters. It's not like people routinely sit down and thrill to NASA footage.)

The tension of the mission builds at a nice pace, and it seems like the screenwriter thought about the alien lifeforms even if what we see on screen doesn't necessarily explain it outright. (The aliens tend to congregate in the bottoms of craters, suggesting that they prefer cold areas--this may be why the one inside the mission commander's suit goes "dormant" and curls up into its shell. They communicate over radio frequencies, a sensible evolutionary development for a lifeform that lives on an airless moon. And their "infection", despite being called that both by the astronauts and the Department of Defense, appears to be more of a venom or toxin spread by bites. All pretty logical.)

My only real complaint about the movie is that the most interesting part occurs a little too near the end. With one astronaut "infected", the other one is told that he will not be allowed to return to Earth for fear of contamination, and the pilot of the lunar orbiter is informed that he will not be given re-entry vectors if he allows him on board. This feels like the perfect opportunity to contrast the Apollo 13 "failure is not an option" mentality that NASA is known for, the belief that even the loss of a single astronaut in the service of space exploration is too much, with the cold-hearted, ruthless mentality of the covert world, where every man knows they're expendable for the "greater good". It felt like they could have spun that tension out for much longer, but instead it occurs right before the end. (Which brings up another did NASA recover the footage?)

On the whole, I felt like it was a solid, respectable effort, and a worthwhile addition to the "found footage" genre. Not as good as, say, 'Cloverfield', but easily ahead of 'The Blair Witch Project'.


LurkerWithout said...

I loved 'Cloverfield'

I can't even come up with words to properly describe the boggling this statement induces...

Voodoo Ben said...

I loved Cloverfield and Quarantine too. I even gave the first Paranormal Activity a shot, even though it turned out to be a complete waste of six bucks.

Nelson said...

"It's not like people routinely sit down and thrill to NASA footage."

Says you!

"...the pilot of the lunar orbiter is informed that he will not be given re-entry vectors if he allows [the surviving LM crew] on board."

Now I haven't seen the movie, but I assume that the scene continues with mission control hearing a "zzzzzip" noise on the radio.

What's that? they ask.

The CM pilot replies, I just flipped through the inch thick spiral bound laminated notebook of mission parameters to be used in the event of radio failure. My main man is on his way up from the surface and we'll both see you in Honolulu, suckers.