Title: Apollo 18
Directed By: Gonzalo López-Gallego
Starring: Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, Ryan Robbins
Found footage films are tough things to screw up. They’re almost inherently effective because the technique presents the tale as a “true story.” Well, I guess that makes Apollo 18 a true anomaly.
After Apollo 17, NASA calls it quits on trips to the moon – as far as the public can tell. In 1974, the Department of Defense contacts the crew of Apollo 18 and informs them their mission is still a go, but it must be kept top secret, even from their families. Nate, Ben and John (Lloyd Owen, Warren Christie and Ryan Robbins) agree and the trio is launched into orbit aboard the Freedom.
Once in space, Nate and Ben board the Liberty and head down to the surface of the moon while John mans the Freedom. On the moon, the guys follow through with their mission by setting up these devices that will supposedly let the US track Soviet nuclear activity. After starting them up, the Liberty experiences communication issues and can no longer get in touch with John or NASA. While investigating some wreckage outside of the Freedom, Nate claims something’s in his suit. After bringing him back on board, Ben manages to calm him down, but even then, Nate just isn’t the same.
No, it’s not Paranormal Activity in space and it’s not just another found footage film either. We’ve seen our fair share of shaky cam movies over the years, but this is the first time the format is nearly unwatchable. In Paranormal Activity, we watch the events go down via one camera. In the second, we get a handheld device and a set of security cameras. It works because those security cameras are well established and enhance the audience’s perception of the environment. Here, however, there’s got to be close to a dozen viewpoints, few of which we get a clear understanding of where exactly they’re coming from. It’s possible to put the pieces together towards the end of the film, but the first half is incredibly disorienting.
Even worse? At just 88 minutes long, a good five are blank frames. Often when the film cuts from one camera to the next, editor Patrick Lussier tosses in a white frame. Lussier also goes cut crazy in the first half of the film. We’re constantly jumping from one camera to the next, to the Liberty and then back up to the Freedom, never letting us get our bearings. Then, while the concern to represent the year the film takes place is necessary to show through the quality of the footage, some is just too poor to watch. Ultimately, we end up with about 30 watchable and comprehensible minutes.
On the other hand, the story itself is quite simple. If only it were told in a more compelling fashion. The first act of the film is a whole bunch of NASA nonsense, the characters constantly tossing out technical terms with absolutely no meaning to the general public. Sure, space missions probably aren’t as fast-paced and exciting as they are in Armageddon, but this is still a movie; it can’t literally move as slow as these astronauts do. Even when Ben and Nate uncover the mysterious Soviet ship, the steps they take to discovering a little more and then a little more are so drawn out, you won’t even care.
Apollo 18 isn’t a total loss though. Once Nate claims to have a first encounter, things get a little more exciting, in terms of the story and the visuals. The majority of that portion of the film is covered through handheld cameras that project a solid image. Plus, Lussier shows some restraint and lets us sit on moments a little longer, giving us time not only to digest them, but really feel what’s going on. The pace picks up monumentally, we get some nice imagery and, surprisingly, even a little emotion.
Sadly, the film’s success only lasts so long and the weak story details drag it down yet again, right into an extremely unfulfilling conclusion. Apollo 18 is just sloppy execution all around. The performances, mostly at the beginning, are noticeably bad, the cinematography is disorienting and the story is just plain old silly. We really should never have gone back to the moon.