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Movie Review: Apollo 18

3-D is More Annoying Than Enhancing in ‘Apollo 18

By Maggie Scott

The Right Stuff becomes the Fright Stuff in Apollo 18, the new thriller from director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego and writer Brian Miller.  This low-budget ($5 million), 88-minute effort both profits from and suffers from the “gimmick” syndrome that has plagued so many 3-D releases whose technology annoys (those awful glasses!) rather than enhances the viewing experience.

In the case of Apollo 18, whose opening half-hour or so is exceptionally intriguing, the gimmick is the so-called “found footage” style of story-telling (think Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity), where the viewer is told that what he or she is seeing is “real” footage taken by the story’s protagonists; in this case, “uploaded” 16 mm film of NASA’s ill-fated and never “officially” acknowledged 1974 moon mission.

With few exceptions, the drama unfolds either before NASA cameras, pre-launch and the on-board cameras of the command vehicle Freedom, flown by Mission Commander John Grey (Ryan Robbins), or before the 16mm cameras of astronauts Benjamin Anderson (Warren Christie) and Nathan Walker (Lloyd Owen). The exceptions are “home movies” of the astronauts partying with girlfriends and wife and son; and brief segments from the director’s POV—for example, a high-angle, panoramic shot of the astronauts in the lunar landscape.

For anyone who remembers the grainy, flickering films and crackling audio transmissions of the thrilling early years of space flight/travel, the opening sequences of Apollo 18 are undeniably engrossing, because the scenes seem like dead ringers for the historical coverage.

Of course, it has to be acknowledged here that some of what you are watching is the actual historical coverage culled from NASA—so-called “stock footage— like a rocket launch, the cratered moon surface filmed by the orbiting command vehicle, the moon landing, the earth filmed from the moon, and so forth. This stock footage is very skillfully spliced into film shot in British Columbia on an amazingly true-to-life surface of the moon “set.”

So, all goes swimmingly (or, floatingly) in the build-up scenes, which include the astronauts talking pre-launch about such gung-ho, patriotic things as bringing back a moon rock for the kid and the mission needing to be “results-oriented” to “being proud to do it for these guys and for my country.” Sadly, the gimmick here proves to be a big tease; amazing foreplay without a climax.

While touching on a great plot twist involving the Soviets and the space race the U.S. supposedly won, and injecting the proceedings with nefarious and ultimately deadly maneuverings by the U.S. Department of Defense involving “national security” (“What are we really doing up here,” asks the naïve, and, by this time, terrified astronaut), the story sinks into an “alien” storyline quagmire.

With just a little more imagination and effort, this could have been a great sleeper hit that uses the gimmick to serve the story and the movie-going experience, instead of the story serving the gimmick. A Dimension

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