“Apollo 18” (2011)

apollo18trailer

★★½☆☆

Gremlins In Space

This movie probably deserves better than two-and-a-half stars. It’s not really that bad. But I’m knocking it down a bit because they took a great premise and ruined it.

The premise in this film is that footage from the last actual moon landing shows that there’s critters up there. That eat people. Kind of. It’s shot in the “mockumentary” style made (in)famous by the “Blair Witch Project,” which I’ve always felt was the reality TV equivalent for film-making. There’s simply no substitute for a good cast, good direction, and good cinematography.

So I knocked down my rating right there because what could have been a stark and eerie film ended up looking like . . . the “Blair Witch Project.” The concept was great – to suggest a reason for stopping the moon landings based on an alien threat instead of political bullshit is great. It kind of borrowed from “Alien” in that the Department of Defense is behind things and wants to investigate the aliens, regardless of the human cost.

But there are so many holes in the plot. A younger audience may not catch them, but us Baby Boomers who grew up with the actual moon landings sure will. For starters, no way in hell the Russians land on the moon undetected – NASA had so much hardware pointed up there it’s impossible that they go undetected. Ooops – guess that’s a spoiler. Oh well. It’s just as unlikely that the US and USSR cooperate on anything in 1973. The plausibility of sending up a manned mission just to rattle the alien’s cage is also absurd. Mission protocol would have scrubbed the whole deal as soon as communications were compromised. And if not then, certainly when the flag they planted goes missing . . . on the moon. The command module pilot would never have gone against orders and just winged it on a rescue attempt. The mission protocols for lunar operations wouldn’t have allowed the astronauts to wander off in the film like they did – this is the freakin’ moon they’re on. And, lastly, this bit about the Russian’s LEM being “almost like ours” is crap. The checklists and procedures to launch a LEM – any LEM – is immense. You don’t just go in there, flip a few switches, and just go into orbit. Utter rubbish.

All that being said, the special effects were decent and the writing was OK. The cast wasn’t great, but I’ve seen worse. To a contemporary audience – who’s more interested in Lady Gaga than in space exploration – and who actually likes reality TV – this film is probably awesome. To these deprived young people I say: go rent Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and watch it with a nice bottle of Absinthe – and then tell me you liked “Apollo 18.”

And that’s another reason I knocked it down a bit. The expectation. I was hoping for something that captured the vast emptiness of space and the stark terror of something going wrong out there. So, for me, this was a let down.

Still, even with all these problems it’s a decent enough end-of-summer movie. It’s at least a little thought provoking. It’s worth checking out at a a matinee when the price is a little lower – because you can’t really see much anyway with the whole hand-held-camera deal going on.