Monday, September 5, 2011

Apollo 18

Have you ever given much thought to the Moon?  You might be making that one small step for man and one giant leap mankind, completing a revolutionary step forward in the exploration of the universe.  But, you're still alone on a dead world.  You're little spaceship is the lone blip of life in monochromatic desert of craters and dust.  This isn't simply being alone at night in a big empty house, this is being alone in a big empty world.  The Moon is not simply dead, it has never been alive at all.  Neil Armstrong is the first living thing ever to walk on its surface.  So what the Hell can it mean if something is knocking at your door?

"Apollo 18" is the movie that dares explore this level of horror.  As I pointed out before, the Moon is actually something of a surreal place, as weird a place as any human being has ever gone.  Oh yes, it might seem quaint to our eyes now, since we've been watching clips of Apollo 13 since childhood.  The Moon is one of the most recognizable locations for all of humanity, we know the white broken landscape with as much familiarity as the Grand Canyon or the New York skyline.  Even if we've never been to the Moon itself, its such a long-standing memory from our childhoods that we probably never even noticed how truly scary our only natural satellite can be.  How bad can the Moon be?  Its the only world to have a face!  Mars always gets the horror treatment:  "The Angry Red Planet", "Ghosts of Mars", "Red Planet" the entire "Doom" series, and even "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians".  But the Moon, even lacking that atmospheric bloody tint, can be just as scary a place as any other heavenly body.

Unfortunately, "Apollo 18" is also a 'found-footage' movie.  Think "the Blair Witch Project" but... IN SPACE!!  Usually these movies, as stated in Issac Newton's Fourth Law of Motion:  "found-footage movies always suck", always suck.  But we all know Newtonian Physics is hardly a completely picture of the universe, so "Apollo 18" actually is a nicely scary horror movie.  If you're looking for the definitive motion picture in Moon-based terror, look someplace else.  But if you just want something that can eat away an evening, there you go, it fits that niche greatly.

All 'found-footage' movies need to have a gimmick.  There's the story itself, which plays out in the fake cameras, and the frame story, the explanation as to why this footage was lost.  Every 'found-footage' movie is complete bullshit, from "Blair Witch" to "Catfish", are all fake.  "Apollo 18" is especially bold in making its fake backstory especially ambitious.  As you might not know, the Apollo missions to the Moon ended with Apollo 17 due to budget cuts and a nation-scale lack of interest.  So what "Apollo 18" claims it that there was an "Apollo 18", a top secret mission that ending in tragedy when the astronauts were eaten by MOON MONSTERS!!!  (This of course leads to the question of how the Hell the footage in question ever floated back down to Earth.  To this I have no answer, its a giant plothole.  Maybe the Ragnarok from "Final Fantasy VIII" just happened to be in that sector of space at the time and conveniently picked up the film reels.)

The reason I hate 'found-footage' movies is this an answer in three parts:
  1. It forces all the character development scenes before the action takes place to be an especially contrived opening.  What are the odds that the same roll of film that shows the astronauts on the Moon has some shots of their family barbecue?  All the structure of a regular movie has to be maintained, but now we have to 'explain' it in some way.  A lot of energy is wasted explaining the cameras, when they should be setting up the characters and the plot.  Plus you have to put together a big silly frame story, usually one that doesn't make any sense to begin with, just to fool morons who might think this stuff is real.  Even when it has acting credits at the end.
  2. A lot of the natural creativity in cinematography and pacing is lost, because the number of shots you can have is extremely limited.  You can't do pans or quick edits, or any other technique, because everything that occurs in the film has to appear like a regular camera took the footage.  Plus this means you can't have music, which only makes the movie more dreary and less fun.  Finally this means that scenes of action are extremely shaky, difficult to see, and usually you never get a good look at the monster!  "Cloverfield" was the worst offender of that sin*.
  3. Due to the structure of these movies, its a given from the start that everybody in the movie is going to die somehow.  So the ending is spoiled from the start.  You can't have survivors from these events, or else the air of mystery is limited.
Luckily, "Apollo 18" does a better job than most 'found-footage' movies.  They universally seem to rely on the main characters being complete idiots, especially "Cloverfield" and "Quarantine".  Would "the Blair Witch Project" have even happened at all if the main characters just followed the river out of the woods?  Dumbasses.  The astronauts here are not idiots, they're trained professionals out in space, in an environment so hostile that even the most hyper-competent spaceman wouldn't stand much of a chance if things go wrong.  Plus, "Apollo 18" lets you see the monsters.  Oh yeah, you get a great look at these babies, even if they are hiding in plain sight most of the time.  They aren't the best monsters ever, but when one is hiding in your spacesuit, you definitely won't pine for Jaws.  Finally, the pacing is way better in this movie than most films of its type.  Usually these things are so slow and boring that I stop paying attention halfway through, but "Apollo 18" kept my attention.

Still, it would have been a much better movie if they had just made a movie, instead of this gimmicky nonsense.

"Apollo 18" is a fine movie, but ultimately its overshadowed by a far greater one.  Duncan Jones' 2009 "Moon" kept up the same visual motifs of lonely emptiness on the same world, but wound up being a much smarter and more finely constructed movie in the end.  Sam Rockwell was the only actor on set, living alone on Earth's desolate satellite.  But one day working, he comes upon something very strange:  another him.  Is he going insane?  Has the cabin fever finally gotten to him?  Or is something else at play here?  "Moon" was one of the best movies of the last decade, easily the most intriguing SciFi film.  But its weirdly underrated, despite being constantly excellent.  This is a simply beautiful movie, as lovely as an origami crane.  I know I'm supposed to be reviewing "Apollo 18" but seriously, watch "Moon" instead.

Beyond the frightening and "too-silly-to-miss" concept, "Apollo 18" actually had a few good twists.  For one, the astronauts get infected with MOON RABIES and so slowly go insane.  The monsters itself was somewhat clever, even if they use it for a pathetically lame attempt at adding paranoia fuel.  (SPOILERS All the Moon rocks are actually spider monsters, and we brought 800 pounds of Moon spiders back to Earth.  So there's one probably hiding behind your head now!!! SPOILERS)  Yeah, I really don't think that's going to work on anybody with more than two brain cells in their head.  Give this movie more than a minute of thought, and the entire concept falls apart.  But hey, its scary enough while it lasts.

This isn't as good of a movie as "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark", and honestly, its actually it isn't even all that intelligent at all.  But hey, its better than the 20% that Rotten Tomatoes gave it.  All I have to do is lower my standards massively, and soon enough I can love tons of movies!  Its the best 'found-footage' movie at least, though that's a bar set so low that I had to dig up with a shovel just to use it as a measuring device.  Still good.  Or if you don't think "Apollo 18" is really worthy of your viewing pleasure, just watch "Moon".

Seriously, "Moon" is that good that I had to let it steal this review.

* "The Blair Witch Project" was even worse, because you never see any witch or anything remotely scary at all.  Its one of the worst movies I've ever seen.  I say there was no witch at all, the main characters were just idiots lost in the woods.  And they freaked out a lot when they saw sticks hanging from a tree.  A lot of people hate the sequel, because it was a regular horror movie, but it was WAY better as far as I'm concerned.


  1. the moon? i always think of this:

  2. Random question Blue, (and to anyone if they can answer this): what the heck is the name of the movie that the picture you used for this post belongs to? xD
    -- Vincent

  3. Vincent: If I remember correctly it's from a silent picture called "A Trip to the Moon". Surprisingly a very "retro" Science fiction movie for it's time.

    I thought that Apollo was great compared to the other Found footage movies to have came out.
    -The 1 & only Uzuki

  4. I found out that the director of "Moon" is David Bowie's son. Now that's just fantastic. I'm definitely going to take a look at that movie.

    Here am I sitting in a tin can far above the world~

  5. Wow, really? Now I should think twice about seeing "Source Code". A completely generic thriller movie that's a rip-off of "Deja Vu" is one thing. But a completely generic thriller movie that's a rip-off of "Deja Vu" MADE BY DAVID BOWIE'S SON, that's another.

  6. I was beaten to the punch for a Space Oddity joke.