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Monday, December 12, 2011

APOLLO 18 -- DVD review by porfle

I love a good "found-footage" mockumentary if it's done right, as it was with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (the grandaddy of FFMs) or the recent ATROCIOUS.  And as an avid fan of the USA space program during the 60s, I was sucked right into APOLLO 18 (2011) from the very start and stayed there till the classic "film running out of the projector" ending. 

The film is supposedly edited together from several hours of classified NASA footage of a secret moon shot which took place after the official "final" moon mission, Apollo 17.  Lt. Col. John Grey (Ryan Robbins) orbits the moon in the command capsule while Commander Nathan Walker (Lloyd Owen) and Captain Benjamin Anderson (Warren Christie) settle onto the lunar surface and start collecting moon rocks.  But first, they have to set up and activate a mysterious device--whose ostensible purpose is to track Soviet missile activity--at the behest of the Department of Defense.

All of this is presented via extremely convincing simulations of the aged, sometimes ragged film footage we've all seen of early NASA missions (along with simulated 8mm home movies of the astronauts and their families), which match almost seamlessly with generous stock footage of the real thing.  Close views of the moon suspended against a black void create an eerie, baleful mood early on and we begin to get a sense of the astronauts' total isolation.  This is heightened when Nate and Ben sit on the moon's surface in their cramped lander, as alone and vulnerable as two people can be, or explore a realistically-rendered lunar landscape strewn with pitch black shadows.

Director Gonzalo López-Gallego, aided by a cast of actors who are very adept at acting natural and unscripted, recreates the sort of light banter and good-natured antics we used to see from real astronauts when they knew the whole world was watching them.  Knowing that APOLLO 18 is a space horror film, however, and that the DOD doo-dad they've just set up must somehow bode ill, gives us a growing unease as little things begin to happen that alter the casual mood of the mission to one of severe apprehension.  And since the world is unaware of this particular moon shot, these guys are really on their own when they begin to suspect that they've been set up.

López-Gallego uses many clever visual tricks to create a spooky mood or, in some cases, a genuine jump-scare.  An astronaut takes photos in a dark crater until one flash suddenly reveals something terrifying; a seemingly random static shot of the moonscape or LEM interior seems harmless until we think we see movement in the periphery. 

The setting is especially effective because when these guys hear a mysterious noise or spot something moving around, it isn't rats in the woodwork and it sure ain't the wind.  As the unexplained and seemingly impossible events begin to escalate, so does the sense of claustrophobia and paranoia within the astronauts' fragile haven of life support.

I've tried to avoid giving anything away because not knowing is a major part of the fun with this movie.  I will say that Nate and Ben make some gut-wrenching discoveries on the moon (some of them quite queasily horrific) which force them to question everything they believe about the space program in general and their own increasingly doomed mission in particular.  Rarely does a story get to present a situation in which two guys are so utterly screwed, and I was with them all the way--vicariously, thank goodness--until the haunting final images. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay, Dimension, and the Weinsteins is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras include a very informative director and editor commentary, deleted and alternate scenes, and four alternate endings.  The film comes as a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital combo--this review is for the DVD only. 

As I understand, the majority of reviews for APOLLO 18 have not been favorable, with words such as "boring" and "suspense-free" popping up here and there.  I found the film riveting from beginning to end--it reminds me of the kind of stuff Joseph Stefano used to write back when "The Outer Limits" was in its heyday, an uneasy mix of both "sense of wonder" and hopeless dread.

Buy it at
Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital copy combo

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