Friday, September 2, 2011

Movie Review: 'Apollo 18'

Apollo 18You know you're looking at a bad horror movie when the ad is just a picture of a guy screaming at the camera.

Apollo 18, directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego. Written by Brian Miller. Starring Warren Christie and Lloyd Owen. Produced by Timur Bekmambetov. Dimension (2011).

I knew I was in for trouble when I discovered the movie had been withheld from critics. Sure enough, it is as dull and un-scary as imaginable. As a warning, I'm going to give everything away, but there isn't very much to give away anyway, and I want to do everything in my power to discourage people from seeing it.

Using the now weary gimmick of the found-footage film, Apollo 18 pretends to be the story of a final, secret mission to the moon (how to launch a Saturn V rocket in secret is not explained) taken by NASA on behalf of the Department of Defense to plant some special payload on the moon's south pole, intended to keep track of the Russians or something. After landing, the astronauts plant an implausible number of cameras to film everything.

We learn next to nothing about the virtually indistinguishable astronauts (names I can't remember and won't look up) who do a lot of hammy acting. On the moon, they discover a Russian lunar module, and in a deep crater they discover the body of a cosmonaut. And there's something else, too, probably an alien. One of the aliens gets in one of the astronaut's suits and he goes nuts with a rock hammer. His buddy gets more and more desperate and more and more hammy as the oxygen begins to run out and he fights for his life. Then comes the big reveal: the terrible monsters on the moon are . . . rocks. Yeah, rocks. They're like hermit crabs or something, except they crawl inside people and infect them with something for some reason.

Oh, and the DoD already knew about the lunar hermit crabs and wanted to waste millions of dollars getting some astronauts killed by them for the furtherence of science, or military power, or something. Not really clear on that point. This little dab of government corruption and conspiracy is meaningless, adding nothing to the drama, or lack thereof. It also defies explanation: how did the DoD know about the aliens, and what are they supposed to accomplish by sacrificing a couple of astronauts to them?

Everyone dies at the end, of course, and everything blows up, which adds one final piece of illogic to an ill-conceived movie: how did all the found footage from those handheld cameras make it back to Earth?

The most entertaining part of the movie, for me, was sitting next to a NASA buff who could tell me everything Apollo 18 got wrong. Besides the obvious-to-anybody errors like noisy aliens in a vacuum, the film depicts the lunar module having a "1201" error while landing, an error that never occurred again after Apollo 11 because that particular problem was fixed. The astronauts also take off their spacesuits while inside the lunar module, something they apparently never did in real life. They for some reason need to use a radio on the lunar rover in order to lift off from the moon, which has no basis in reality. They talk about being able to feel sharp drops in temperature as they walk around, whereas in reality they could feel nothing inside their suits as they moved between the moon's extreme heat and extreme cold. There were other flubs I can't even remember now; most of these are excusable to anybody who doesn't know the lunar missions in minute detail.

What isn't excusable is the agonizingly slow pacing and the complete lack of thrills. Aside from a couple of jump scenes that worked and one that doesn't, as well as two moments of bad-goodness (moments that are about five seconds each), it is a movie with nothing. Nada. Zip. I don't even know what to say about it now because the movie was like a leech, draining my creativity away. I spent the movie looking at my watch and occasionally giggling at the dumbest parts.

It probably could have been more interesting if not limited by the found-footage gimmick, which meant distracting graininess, weird editing, and the constant question of why exactly there are so many cameras everywhere. If the creatures were something more intriguing than hermit crabs, then the depiction of two astronauts trapped in a phone-booth-sized lunar module while something malevolent roams the waste outside might have been claustrophobic and intense, but here it is merely dull. If the astronauts had been likable characters or at least acted like professionals, they might have drawn audience sympathy, but they repeatedly act like dunderheads and make stupid decisions merely to advance the plot.

Content: It's not even frightening. Contains a little blood, a little foul language, and a lot of boredom.
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