Officially, Apollo 17, launched December 17th, 1972 was the last manned mission to the moon. But a year later, in December of 1973, two American astronauts were sent on a secret mission to the moon funded by the US Department of Defense. What you are about to see is the actual footage which the astronauts captured on that mission. While NASA denies its authenticity, others say it’s the real reason we’ve never gone back to the moon.
Apollo 18 7.5
eyelights: its genius concept. the quality of the production.
eyesore: its awkward third act. its obvious influences.
“We’ll let your family know you died a hero. I’m sorry, Ben.”
The idea of space travel is frightening, when you think about it. It’s already daunting enough of a proposal to be riding a rocket at untold speeds, given its propensity for defect and ability to combust, but to be in the cold of space, where there’s no atmosphere and no easy return home, is positively chilling.
So imagine being on the moon, cramped in a small space, and realizing that something’s out there.
Such is the premise behind ‘Apollo 18’, the 2011 sci-fi horror which surmises that the reason the Apollo missions were cancelled is because NASA discovered a very real risk on the lunar surface. And the Apollo 18 mission, which was officially abandoned, had actually been launched in secret – never to come back.
The less one says about this picture the better – not because it’s a weak movie, but because it’s all about the small surprises, which I may already have divulged too much of. What makes it especially interesting, though, is how the filmmakers attempted to make the picture look like a documentary, not a movie.
What they did was to mix a small amount real archival footage with fake period interviews and footage of the Apollo 18 mission (which was “filmed on location” with cameras in the craft and on the lunar surface). Together, without any ambient score to embellish things, they created a sci-fi “found footage” picture.
And it kind of works.
Though I didn’t find the picture especially scary, it is a bit creepy, with the filmmakers initially allowing the shadows do their work for them. And you can allow yourself to be convinced that this is actually taking place, as the footage is shot in a manner that is consistent with the filmmaking equipment of the day.
Having said this, I had issues with the large number of cameras involved and the changing screen ratios.
With respect to the cameras, I found it implausible that the crew would have so many cameras running at once. Though NASA would naturally want to document all lunar activity, it seemed unlikely to carry so much equipment given the limited capacity for the module. Or that the crew would bother setting it all up.
With respect to the screen ratios, it made sense to me to see grainy and scratchy shots framed in 4:3, which was the television format of the day – but the picture frequently shifted to 1.78:1, which is the modern standard. That didn’t quite fly with me, though I suspect that modern audiences found this comforting.
Where the picture sort of comes apart is in the third act, when any self-respecting horror movie would want to dial up the tension to put its audience on the edge of their seats. But I didn’t really buy into the crew’s decisions, firstly to allow contamination into the module and then commandeering a dead module instead.
But I wrote this poor decision-making off as fear-based, and considered that the crew were simply not trained for those types of situations. Admittedly, one could counter-argue that their intense training prepares them for all manners of unexpected situation (i.e. Apollo 13), but I consciously decided to let it pass.
If one isn’t wholly attached to realism (and it’s fairly easy to do unless one is well-versed in NASA procedures, training and technology from that era), then ‘Apollo 18’ is a suitably eerie little number. It’s not groundbreaking fare, but it mashes different genres together in a way that is fresh enough to be entertaining.
…and to make you wonder what’s out there in the craters and moondust.
Date of viewing: February 10, 2017