Saturday, September 10, 2011

Apollo 18

"I Didn't Ask for the Anal Probe"*
"Houston, We've Got a Pro*skkss..."

Apollo 18 is like an anal probe.  I'll get to that in a bit.

First off, this is all hooey, the latest in the "Found Footage" school of horror movies (ala The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity—a genre that, actually, can be traced back to Orson Welles' Hallowe'en broadcast of "The War of the Worlds"**).  One simply uses cinema verite techniques, particularly of the budget-friendly low-didg' variety, to give a "you are there, filming" feel to a series of events, preferably horrific—it takes full advantage of the limited frame of view to show you stuff that happens at a reactive speed, one step (and panicked "whip" pan) behind what went down.

The thing is, this is just the sort of thing that can inspire the deluded (or Rosie O'Donnell) to come up with conspiracy theories that it might all be true—how many "Moon Landing Hoax" "experts" came out of watching Capricorn One (the Peter Hyams film about a staged Mars landing in a remote desert-area soundstage, because "it doesn't work..").  The "post hoc ergo propter hoc" logic being..."if we could go to the Moon back then, why didn't we ever go back?"

The answer is simple: budget cuts.  One could be even more cynical and say "poor ratings."  It's hard to believe that the reasons could be so shallow, but as John Oliver of "The Daily Show" pointed out in his coverage of the final shuttle launch, it was a "seminal moment in History, when America looked at its highest aspirations and said 'Ah...f____ it!'"

It was as simple as that.  Budget cuts.  Nixon was in the White House, he was a big fan of the program—all those photo ops, and he got to sign those plaques on the Moon!—but, at a time of runaway inflation, going to the Moon wasn't very popular, the declining ratings for the Missions being proof of it.  So, the last three missions were scrapped (those being 18, 19, and 20) in a literal case of "Been There, Done That" (and we've got enough rocks, thanks a lot).Those cuts necessitated the re-assignment of Harrison Schmitt, the only astronaut-geologist being bumped up to the "17" crew to assuage the scientific community, who were already threatening to take down Mission Control in Houston with rock-hammers.  Budget cuts.  Now, there's your horror film for you ("Attack of the Fiscal Conservatives!").

So, Apollo 18.  Because of the nature of the film, the director, Gonzalo López-Gallego, abandons the long-take structure of most of these "found-footage" things.  The movie veers from video footage to 16 mm movie footage at different speeds, hand-held to stationary-cams, NASA stock-footage to staged bitsLittle of it is convincing, as much as they try to replicate the grain and shaky cam feel that's required for the "feel" of it.  Also, there seem to be stationary-cams "all over" the Lunar Module, not to mention tons and tons of film---look, the original 16mm footage for the Moon landings were mostly taking a shot every few they wouldn't run out of, the photo budget seems to be unlimited (of course, that completely ignores the 'weight" issue).  The Lunar Module is a sturdy old thing, able to survive blows with a rock-hammer...even though the real Lunar Module, being a solely space-worthy vehicle had very, very thin walls (that 'weight" issue)—the real-life Astronauts were very concerned about putting their boots through them.

And while we're on the subject—the Mission is'd they get the footage back?  Did they have it delivered?

We can get very technical here—the staged lunar walks show no evidence of a lesser gravity (unless they use the stock footage), and the way they get around it is having the "astronauts" shuffling slowly along the surface, with no evidence of the dust-clouds the real astronaut boots kicked upWhen "something new" is added in the element, it looks as fake as from Destination Moon, George Pal's 1950 film.  The scares are of the cheap variety (the only good one is a prank), but it's not enough to let you accept what you're seeing, and every so often it's good to ask..."who took that footage?" (They're right!  There is something on the Moon!  Extra cameramen!). 

They throw every problem at the crew that they can...despite any of them being grounds for immediate lift-off and escape...Communications problems?  Come home.  LEM power failure?  Come home.  Out of Tang?  Come home.  But, these guys get all that (well, not the "Tang"), plus mysterious tracks, spaceships they didn't know were there, unexplained damage to the ship, "somebody" stole the flag, and things that go bump in the lunar night—they frequently skirt the "no sound in space" rule, although sound designer Wylie Stateman, who does sound work for Oliver Stone, Quentin Tarantino, and Paul Haggis, does yeoman's work on this, even if some of the "alien" sounds are a little too electronica.

But, Apollo 18 is "The Blair Space Project," ending in the dumbest way possible.  A by-the-flightplan exercise on autopilot, baiting-and-switching every fifteen seconds to keep any form of agitation going (and even that makes no sense).  Not exciting, not clever, and illogical, not obeying its own rules or the rules from the "other" space monster movie it's ripping off, it's an almost total failure on every level. 

Which leaves me with one burning question...

"If we could send a man to the Moon, why did we have to make a movie like Apollo 18...?"

Apollo 18 is a Waste of Time (Good thing I didn't watch the 17 prequels!!).

These are much more fun....A talk-show guest convinced that Stanley Kubrick directed fake moon-walks for the U.S. Government...

And the BBC mockumentary that probably got him started on it (it's never been aired in this country...Ooooo, let the conspiracy theories bloom!)

* Let me explain: in John Sayles' Passion Fish, there is a terrific monologue by an actress named Nina (played by an actress named Nancy Mette, who does a great job with it).  She is hired to play the victim of an alien abduction in a sciece fiction movie, but she decides it's an opportunity to be seen...wait,'s on-line...better you just watch it.

 * Where Welles, his Mercury Theater of the Air, and writer Howard Koch, did a "modern dress" version of the novel (on radio) where the first half took the form of "Special bulletins" of alien invasion interrupting a radio program of dance music.

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