Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Apollo 18 - Dir. Gonzalo López-Gallego

Filmmakers will utilize any appropriate marketing tool to get audiences into cinemas and since the success of the ‘Blair Witch Project’ and most recently ‘Paranormal Activity,’ the found-footage sub-genre has achieved somewhat of a renaissance. They are cheaply made, require no big names to populate the cast and they work upon exploiting a basic human fear; you could be watching reality, therefore this could be happening in a woods/home/factory near you at this very moment in time. ‘Apollo 18,’ directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego and produced by Timur Bekmambetov, is the newest addition to this sub-genre by taking this concept into space and working alongside the well-known conspiracy theories that have surfaced since the first manned mission to the moon in July, 1969. However, where others have recently succeeded, this film fails to even get out of the launch pad. Despite its interesting concept, it is slow, formulaic and not particularly scary.

In 1972, NASA sent the supposed final manned mission to the moon in Apollo 17, or that’s what they wanted you to think. Cancelling the Apollo missions 18, 19, and 20 under the guise of budgetary and scheduling constraints, the Apollo 18 mission actually went ahead under the guidance of the Department of Defence. Astronauts Ben Anderson (Warren Christie), Nate Walker (Lloyd Owen) and John Grey (Ryan Robbins) are sent to the moon to install what they believe to be a missile defence system that will further protect against a surprise Russian attack in the midst of the Cold War. However, after just a few short hours on the moon things start to go wrong, the astronauts begin to notice that something is attempting to disrupt their mission and what follows is the documentation of the disturbances by the three men as they attempt to figure out what is happening and if the ground control team knew of the dangers in the darkened crevices of the moon before they were sent up there.

‘Apollo 18’ fails exponentially in one key area, which continually ruins the film for the proceeding eighty-odd minutes after it has begun. Using the fictional ploy and backstory about a WikiLeaks-esque website publishing eighty-four hours of found footage and then condensing this footage into an eighty-six minute film which reveals all about what really happens on the surface of the moon. The on-screen prologue acknowledges that the footage was released in 2011, but it visually it would be more representative of 1981. Even amateur filmmakers nowadays can become professional editors from the comfort of their own homes due to the boom in video-editing software, but ‘Apollo 18’ instead is disjointed and annoying. Littered with black-outs, film which seems to have aged perfectly and others that seem to barely able to contain an image, and the occasional overt cinematic technique that seems substantially out of place in the grand scheme of the film. Potential tension and suspense is constantly overshadowed with the emphasis on fast and pointless editing showcasing the desolate landscape rather than the creatures that are attacking the team. Alongside the technical aspects of the film, the narrative itself is also guilty of underperforming, with it just dawdling along with very little happening in between short spurts of action and suspense.

The plot opens itself up with various different avenue’s to explore with the inclusion of objects and characters that are found beyond their space shuttle, however the majority of the action is confined to the safe and secure living confines of the astronauts. The great unknown that is the surface of the moon is constantly underused until the characters are forced out of their living quarters, and still then the action is few and far between. One positive acknowledgement however is the performance by Warren Christie, as the lone astronaut who understands initially that something is not right and that he and his colleagues may simply be small, disposable pieces in a larger, conspiracy laden plan. But the solid performance from one character in the grand scheme of the entire project can’t elevate the film from its deflated narrative, mediocre direction and poorly chosen technical compositions. With the conclusion of the film and the projection of the credits there is still no pay-off for the audience, the being(s) which terrorise the astronauts are left unexplored and a few meagre lines of text explain what happened to the three men according to the sacred word of the United States Government. However this does allow for the credits to be exhibited in the same vein as the rest of the feature, as a vastly underwhelming piece.
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