Just in time for your holiday viewing pleasure, “Apollo 18” arrives this week at your local DVD outlet. I’m kidding. Don’t confuse “Apollo 18” with “Apollo 13,” though they are both about moon missions. The current number is fictitious, has little to no real tension, no big name stars, and minimal production values. The older movie grips us throughout, despite our knowing how it turns out; “18” largely bores, except for the occasional unintended laugh.
The movie purports to have been stitched together from 84 hours of found footage previously classified secret by the government but now edited down to 88 minutes. (How the filmmakers got their hands on it is left unspecified, along with how anybody got it at all.) Director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego employs grainy film stock, skew angles, jump cuts, handheld camera, and apparent breaks in the film to lend the goings on some verisimilitude. And every now and again, we forget—for minutes on end!—that this just an entertainment made on the cheap.
People have compared this to “The Blair Witch Project” of a few years back, but that little movie at least had some scary moments. This one tries mightily to spook us but fails, just as the mission does—or does it?
Three astronauts—played by Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, and Ryan Robbins—are sent on a top secret mission in 1974, supposedly to place some transmitters on the moon as an “eye in the sky” to detect missiles. (Again, exactly how they escape detection is left unsaid.) When they arrive, the two men on the lunar module soon discover that something’s “not right,” a line they repeat at intervals with slight variation to (again) unintended comic effect. Later, they find a set of footprints which are definitely not theirs—they know this because they haven’t walked that way—and which lead to an abandoned and partly trashed Russian module.
Worse, though again not scarier, they discover a dead Russian cosmonaut in a dark, cold crater. The module’s cameras pick up little twitches of movement on the surface, somebody (or something!) tips over the lunar rover, and the American flag gets stolen. When they report this outrage to Houston, they are told to hang on until the Department of Defense clears this up. (Watergate is prominently mentioned, hint, hint.) But communications are mysteriously broken off soon after, and it begins to dawn upon the lads that they have been sent up and set up as guinea pigs.
One or two moments of “eeww, gross!” follow as we and they discover that We Are Not Alone and that They do not like Us. The payoff is oddly anticlimactic, despite a lot of yelling. All this has been done before, of course, and much, much better.
I went to “Apollo 18” last fall hoping for a break in the doleful march of 3-D movies dominating the doldrums of summer. Alas, this movie, rated “PG-13” for language and some violence, is scarcely even 2-D. For a thrilling experience, I’d advise reading a good book.