By C.E. Chambers
Posted September 8, 2011
There was a time a film like this would have been appreciated. Back in the 60s, in fact. It’s a rather minimalistic adaptation of a story nonetheless fraught with sci-fi/thriller intrigue, appropriately imperfect camera work, and decent enough actors. However, the 21st-century American movie industry offers riveting special effects, increasingly complex plots, and run times of two and even three hours which have created spoiled audiences who are basically developing a cinematic-type of attention deficit disorder.
For example, Spielberg’s inclusion of not just one but two opposingly different types of aliens in “Cowboys and Aliens” (a film set in the 1800s), and the industry’s heavy reliance on prequels, sequels, and super hero comic characters who already have a massive fan base, probably means that budding screenwriters with fresh material who don’t rely on gimmicks will have an even tougher time than usual garnering interest in their work.
This film purports to tell the disturbing truth about a real-life, NASA-planned mission to the moon called “Apollo 18” that was ostensibly cancelled in the 1970s. (A lunartruth.org website included in the end credits pulls up a stark declaration that its domain was “forcibly censored” and its “contents can be seen in the film.”)
Timur Bekmambetov produced this film and Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego’s, who’s from Spain, directed it. It’s about three astronauts (Ryan Robbins, Lloyd Owen, and Warren Christie) who think they’re lifting off on a top-secret lunar mission to just collect moon rocks and install radar devices that will somehow warn the U.S. if the Soviet Union plans to attack. To their horror, two of the three astronauts (one remains in orbit on a separate module) discover the dead body of a Soviet cosmonaut and, slowly, it dawns on them that a hard-to-detect, ravaging type of alien is thriving on that barren celestial body called the moon. Will the men survive this hostile environment? Was the Department of Defense already aware of the danger? If so, what would justify risking the lives of men without proper defense equipment who are also emotionally unprepared for deadly extraterrestrial encroachment?
Some critics have complained about the lack of a proper build-up to the darker aspects of the plot. However, I rather enjoyed the bland, emotionless transmissions from world-weary, veteran NASA employees to the astronauts bound by the challenging limitations of outer space. (Sometimes this is taken to a rather uncomfortable degree and the dispatchers on earth come across as lacking in normal empathy.) Simple truths about space module lodging really stand out because of the pared down storyline: white, hammock-type beds; a choice between carrots or peas for dinner; and the simulated crowing of a rooster to wake the astronauts from much-needed slumber.
The ending caught me totally by surprise, in more ways than one, which greatly pleased me. The running time is barely an hour and a half.
My seatmate, a male (whose observations I might begin to include once in a while in my critiques), is one of the new breed of Hollywood’s spoiled brats. He’s been spoon fed for too long on pyrotechnics, car crashes, and the over-stimulation of computer-generated imagery. I’m going to start calling this phenomenon “special effects porn.” (If this terminology already exists, it’s not apparent in the search engine I use.) He was very disappointed that none of the above is included in this movie.
“Apollo 18” is not necessarily a memorable film, and the special effects that do exist are certainly a little amateurish compared to today’s viewers’ expectations. But I say “bravo” to smaller budgets and to minimalistic screenwriters like Brian Miller. I’m curious to know what he has planned for the future.
(Rated PG-13 for language, disturbing images, peripatetic lunar rocks, and…I’d share more but I don’t wanna spoil the rest of the special effects)
NOTE #2: Read a web page written by a NASA employee that’s devoted to the subject of the real-life Apollo missions that were cancelled in the 1970s can be read here. This link was obtained from Wikipedia.
Afterward: This film critique was expanded after posting today to include the name of the producer,Timur Bekmambetov, and to post Note #2.