In the wake of such documentary style films as Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, and Fourth Kind, Apollo 18 is the newest of this genre of ‘found footage’ type movies. It is well done and makes you question the role of NASA in the space race between the two super power countries, the USA and the USSR.
It might not have brought enough thrills to be worth the ticket price on the big screen, but on Blu-ray the movie manages to create a tense atmosphere that gives a jump or two to keep the audience watching.
Warren Christie, who plays Captain Benjamin Anderson, and Lloyd Owens, who plays Commander Nathan Walker, carry the entire film on their shoulders. They are the ones who leave the shuttle and continue the secret mission on the moon. Lt. John Grey, played by Ryan Robbins, stays in orbit to continue communication with them.
The premise is that Anderson, Walker, and Grey are sent by NASA on a top secret mission to the moon. In reality after the Apollo 17 mission, we never went back to the moon so the film plays into questions that we, the audience, might have about missions to space.
Christie and Robbins do an excellent job in their roles. Supposedly, the footage is found, and a mocumentary type of movie is given to us thru the eyes of the cameras on board their ship and thru their hand-held recordings.
What wasn’t disclosed to these astronauts is that Russia has already been there, and they find the evidence of this, which includes a ship and a body. What, or who, killed the Russian astronauts? Slowly the paranoia begins to take hold and the film escalates into a wild, tragic ride.
NASA’s communication is particularly tragic as the audience identifies with the stranded astronauts. Basically, our country enlisted these men to die, knowing what was up there.
Walker becomes infected first, and his increasing paranoid and ill health test Anderson’s loyalty. Anderson continues to stay loyal to him, trying to help him, but as Walker becomes more and more psychotic, the audience begins to wonder when and if Anderson will escape or be killed - not by the infection or whatever it is, but my Walker in a fit of rage.
Anderson must find answers on his own, as Walker increasingly becomes incapacitated and of little help to him. NASA is of little help, and Grey in stuck in orbit. When he pleads with NASA for help, and they refuse, he heartbreakingly tells them he has a family. They respond, “We will let them know you died a hero.”
All of this tension is played out in space with the backdrop of the threat of no air. Anderson enlists the help of Grey and it seems that they will make it back to the country that has just told them to die.
Apollo 18 makes us question our government and the entire space program, but in the wake of Blair Witch and Cloverfield those questions are tainted no matter how convincing the footage. While the fact the “found footage” may not be that found doesn’t kill the suspense of the film, it does take away a big part of the suspense.
At its core, Apollo 18 is a tale of being stranded and not being able to get home, which has been done a million times, starting with Ulysses and his decade of trying to get back to where he belonged.
I will say that Apollo 18 is unique because it does take an old theme and makes it new and interesting. Even the aspects of the ‘alien infection’ are different.
When I think ‘alien,’ I think of monsters drooling acid or the mother ship parking itself over Washington D.C. In this movie, this was not the case at all and I applaud the filmmakers for using such subtleties that turn into terror. It was more than likely done for a budgetary reason, but watching a smaller alien scuttle across the screen became more fun than watching a mothership blast a national landmark.
The Blu-ray comes with some decent special features including an audio commentary with director Gonzalo López-Gallego and editor Patrick Lussier, deleted and alternate scenes, and alternate endings.
While it might not become an icon in the sci-fi genre, Apollo 18 is very well-acted, and well-directed. The filmmakers make the most of the tight quarters of the astronauts which helps to create a sense of claustrophobia to the entire movie.
The claustrophobia element is added to the fact the astronauts are slowly running out of air and trapped on the surface of the moon to give the story a larger scope than just a sci-fi film about some footage discovered about the space race.
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