Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Apollo 18 (2011)

Title: Apollo 18 (2011)

Director: Gonzalo Lopez Gallego

Cast: Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, Ryan Robbins


I’ve always been a fan of what is commonly referred to as “found footage” films; these are films that are shot documentary style. The idea being that the movie we are watching is part of film footage that was found, after the facts. I like these films because if done right, the resulting film will have an augmented level of realism to it, more so then your regular film. Things don’t feel so ‘Hollywood’ or fake in these types of films. Apollo 18 is one of the latest examples of the found footage genre, and I have to say that the filmmakers behind Apollo 18 were, in my book, quite successful with what they achieved with this film.  

In Apollo 18 we follow the crew of the last American mission to the moon. In real life, the Apollo 17 was the last manned flight to the moon, but for reasons of entertainment this film asks the question: what if there was one mission we never knew about? A mission hidden to us by the government? A mission called Apollo 18?! Ever wonder why  NASA has never gone back to the moon? This found footage film, which is supposed to be decades old, reveals to us the ‘true’ reasons why. Everything on this Apollo 18 mission  was documented because the whole ship was equipped with cameras everywhere. On top of that, the astronauts themselves have cameras with which they record everything. Through their footage we see that strange things begin to occur on the lunar surface. For example, the electronic equipment on their spaceship begins to malfunction for some reason. Upon further exploration of the moon, the astronauts find an abandoned Russian spaceship and some dead cosmonauts. What the hell has happened here?

I enjoyed Apollo 18 for many reasons, one of them being that it’s a well made found footage film. I felt so close to the film; like I was right there with these astronauts, landing on a strange, alien satellite, which is great because honestly, how many of you feel that the universe is one of the greatest mysteries in life? I mean, entire planets, just floating out there. Galaxies, stars, black holes, comets…I find it all fascinating and mysterious. To me, one of humanities biggest priorities should be exploring that great, ominous unknown out there. Just send a spaceship out there and explore the hell out all that vastness! Star Trek style! But the closest man has ever gotten to exploring space is the moon, we haven’t ventured further then that. Not personally anyway. We’ve had satellites go as far as Mars, but a manned mission to mars seems further and further away, especially when we take in consideration that NASA’s funds were cut short this year and that they damn nearly shut down all kinds of space exploration, or so they say. Last time I checked, we still have two space stations in orbit, one Chinese, one International. At least there’s that.

But going to the moon in 69? That was a big deal back in the day, still is in my book. That is if it really happened; there’s that conspiracy theory always hovering about that says that we never truly went to the moon, that it was an elaborate hoax to distract the common American from the horrors perpetrated in the collective consciousness by Nixon and the Vietnam War. Did we go to the moon or not? I lean towards the idea that we did, and that it’s all true. Number one because I love the freaking idea, and number two because there’s just so much footage of the whole thing. Don’t know if you guys have seen it, but there’s a documentary called For All Man Kind (1989); I reviewed it a while back and was blown away by it. On this documentary we can see astronauts bouncing on the lunar surface! We see them actually venturing out into space for the first time! We see footage of them inside of their shuttle moving about in zero gravity! Can you imagine what it must have felt like to have nothing but stars beneath your feet? Seeing the universe down there below you? Those astronauts had one hell of an experience! Strange how many of them have died in mysterious circumstances though…which can lead one to think it was a hoax and the government killed them all to hide the truth? But who knows….the worst is usually the true.

But as I watched it, Apollo 18 brought all these themes and questions to my mind and it added the element of horror into the mix! Quite effectively I might add. I loved that the film wasn’t in such a hurry to tell it’s tale, it goes at just the perfect pace if you ask me, revealing more and more at just the right time. Loved that about it! But trust me, when the film decides to turn up the juice, things get intense alright! Very intense! And since we’re so up close and personal, even more intense! The premise of these two guys alone in the surface of the moon, with not a human in sight makes everything kind of spookier. All that terrain up there in the lunar surface, and it’s so empty, so dark and alone, the perfect setting for a horror movie!

I also enjoyed the fact that it wasn’t an empty movie. It addresses some important themes. For example, one of the characters get’s all paranoid at one point because he feels he is being watched all the time. That “they know” and that “they are watching us” and that we are “guinea pigs” and that he doesn’t want to be watched anymore. I mean, how many of you out there ever get just a little paranoid at how many cameras are filming us on a day to day basis? On the train, on the supermarket, while you are driving in your car, when your walking down the mall, when a cop stops you, hell, for all you know, somebody is zooming in on you from a satellite in space. I like how the film addressed this issue, the constant surveillance issue. When I walk on the streets, I’m always conscious of how many cameras are filming me. Everyday. There it is. That camera. Looking at me. Sometimes I try and avoid the cameras, because I hate that idea that someone somewhere is watching me, studying my behavior, as if I’m some sort of social experiment?  

The performances and situations were all very convincing and I applaud the filmmakers for convincingly bringing the 60’s back to life. I mean, the footage truly does look old and decrepit, scratched, aged, yellowed. This effect was achieved because for some scenes they actually used old cameras from the 70’s! All the space gear looks real, as do the spaceships and the electrical equipment. Makes you think if they pulled this off so convincingly for this film, maybe they pulled off something similar back in the day and fooled an entire nation? This lunar hoax thing makes me think of a Barry Levinson’s  Wag the Dog (1997), a film in which the U.S. government pays a filmmaker to shoot a fake war to distract the people from a sexual scandal involving the president. I applaud this director, a Spanish guy by the name of Gonzalo Lopez Gallego for making this film look more expensive then it is. I’ve never seen any of his previous work, but I hear good things about a film he made called Nomadas (2001) which I’ll hopefully be checking out soon. But if you can believe it, they made this movie for 5 million dollars, which is pocket change for Hollywood. This film shows once again that you don’t need kajillions of dollars to make a good film. You just need a good crew, good actors, writers, directors. The artistic side is the one that needs to be of quality. Then, even with a little money, the resulting film should be something worth while. Like Apollo 18.  

Rating: 5 out of 5


Jack Thursby said...

Yeah, I heard some terrible reviews of this but I'm still interested in it. I appreciate a well thought out found footage movie every now and then.

If you're a fan of the genre a really good one is The Last Broadcast (1998) about a bunch of guys who go in search of the Jersey Devil. Very creepy. It's sort of part found footage, part documentary. Very similar to Blair Witch but came out the year before.

Franco Macabro said...

I also read some negative reviews which is why I went in expecting crap, but I didnt really find anything wrong with this one, to me it was great. Very suspenseful, scary, well shot, I mean it cost the same as MOON, but I think it looks even better than MOON.

Franco Macabro said...

And thanks for the suggestion, I'll be searching out The Last Broadcast and seeing it soon.

Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

I liked your rational assessment of Apollo 18, Francisco, even though I completely disagree with it.

I’m glad you began your review by stating that you “are a fan of found footage films”, because that is the only way that I think anyone can enjoy Apollo 18. While I agree that on a technical level Apollo 18 does an excellent job of recreating the feel of the claustrophobia of the Apollo command module and the imminent sense of danger inherent in that era’s space travel, I never bought into the premise that this footage was real.

I spent some time in my review on GOTG! explaining my views on found footage films and Apollo 18 specially, so I won’t reiterate it here. However, it is possible for found footage film to work dramatically – at least for me – if the story and characters are more fully realized. That was my main problem with Apollo 18 in that it spends too little time developing the astronaut’s characters and the reasons behind their secret mission. I was surprised that you felt that “the film wasn’t in such a hurry to tell it’s tale”, because with a running time of 86 minutes, it only spends about the first 20 minutes of that getting the astronauts on the Moon and into peril. I personally felt the set up was rushed and would have benefited from more back story.

It’s always great fun talking film with you, Francisco – even when we disagree! Keep up the interesting and insightful reviews Mr. Film Connoisseur.

Franco Macabro said...

Fritz: I had a hard time trying to figure out which scenes where real space footage and which werent, that's what impressed me about it.

I'll have to check out your article over at Guardians of the Genre, I'm sure it will be interesting reading. I've always liked these types of films, I think it's the level of realism that some of them have, when they are well made.

I also enjoy these types of films because they get to the point quicker, because they edit things out, I guess in your mind you kind of fill in the blanks as to what kind of guys these cosmonauts are, these films dont unfold at the same kind of pace as others do.

By the way, speaking of "found footage" I just saw Chronicles and whoa...what a movie! Review up today! But...it blew me away!

venoms5 said...

I, too, enjoy these kinds of movies, but for them to be successful, you need good performances. For me, the acting stank. The entire film bored me to tears. I blind bought this along with another horrible movie, the remake of DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK and FD5; the latter of which I mildly enjoyed.

I found myself not even caring at all about the horror elements of the script. The story was actually quite good, just executed blandly to me. I did find the section of the film where they discover the other ship to be creepy, but that was it. One of the worst of the found footage movies, imo. But I'm glad you enjoyed it, Fran, and you've documented your thoughts wonderfully in the review. I only wish I enjoyed the film as much!

Franco Macabro said...

@Venom5: The reason I liked it so much was probably because it was in space, which i think is a great setting for a horror film. Things can get so existensial in space, and I'm all about existensialism. I enjoyed how they commented on how society is "being watched" all the time by video cameras. Which I thought was creepy too.

I personally didn't find it to have bad performances and I thought it got quite intense at times, especially as it progresses. It certainly has its moments.

I also, I applauded it by achieving so much with so little money.

Thanks for commenting dude!


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