One word best describes Apollo 18 for me: Boring.
This film posits a reason why NASA ceased its manned missions to the moon after Apollo 17. It turns out there was, in fact, a secret Apollo 18 mission to set up surveillance equipment on the moon. And it went very badly, due to extraterrestrial interference. Bring in the cover-up.
Despite the highly intriguing idea, I couldn’t help but feel that the filmmaker’s approach doomed it from the start.
First, there’s the time period. 70’s-era space exploration limits you to bulky spacesuits, a dune buggy rover, a cramped one-room lunar module, and less technology than you’ll find in your graphing calculator. You can only bring three characters on this mission - one in the orbiter and two on the moon.
Then there’s the setting. Not much action can take place inside the cramped quarters of the lunar module, where space is so small you’re sleeping on hammocks above one another. Outside is barren emptiness, and you can’t stray too far from the lander. Your guy in the orbiter can do nothing but wait.
There’s just not that much for your characters to do. I even had a hard time finding interesting stills for this review.
Finally, this is yet another “found footage” movie, ostensibly spliced together from footage mysteriously recovered and uploaded to the internet.
This seems a sensible choice at first, and the filmmakers do a FANTASTIC job of making the film seem like an assemblage of early video and super 8 film. Yet when the camera - and thus, our viewpoint - cannot extend beyond the bounds of the surveillance video inside the lunar modules or the hand-held cameras when the characters deem it necessary to carry them (which they do far too often to be credible), the storytelling restrictions become severe.
The end result is essentially Paranormal Activity in space. I spent almost an hour watching the crew go through the mundane business of launching themselves into space, landing on the moon, and exploring dust and rocks before anything remotely interesting started happening.
People have different feelings about Paranormal Activity, but if it freaked you out, it’s probably because you could relate to the setting, characters and situation - a couple of middle-class Americans in a house that might as well be your own, doing everyday stuff and experiencing odd bumps and noises that we’ve all felt at some point during the night. It’s threatening because maybe this will happen to you someday.
By the last half-hour, these astronauts were still so distant to me that I found it hard to muster emotional feelings for what was happening to them. Even setting aside the complete lack of character development, the stakes just aren’t that high. What’s the worst that could come of this? Two guys might die, which would only serve to contain the “threat” 238,900 miles above the rest of us, where it’s always been and will always remain.
In short, I found Apollo 18 a maddeningly slow-paced film, devoid of suspense or scares, with a payoff that made me wonder why I bothered. I honestly would have turned it off after 30 minutes if I hadn’t already committed myself to writing this.
**** SPOILERS ****
Although the notion that the moon rocks we’ve brought back to Earth could actually be alien creatures is kind of fun, it stretches the bounds of credibility.
Also, how in the world would they have recovered all this footage if the lander crashed into the orbiter? One could argue that some of it was streaming back to Houston all along. But what about all the handheld footage? Did it eventually drift back to Earth, miraculously not burning up in the atmosphere?
There’s more, but I’ll stop there. I don’t care to muster any more mindshare for this snoozer.