Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
September 2011

They might be giants aliens

'Apollo 18' is twelve years late and a dollar short

Apollo 18
Dimension Films
Director: Gonzalo López-Gallego
Screenplay: Brian Miller and Cory Goodman
Starring: Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen and Ryan Robbins
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 28 minutes
(out of four)

Apollo 18 seems to think it's in on some sort of joke. Only, as it turns out, it's a joke everyone has already heard, and it's just gotten old. ("Three astronauts walk into a bar . . .")

The joke is that real-life footage has been unearthed - footage chronicling one heinous event or another - and that the movie you're watching is made up of pieces from that mysterious old video recording.

The audience takes that for what it is - the contrived dramatic hook - and thinks nothing else of it. Except the marketing department in charge of promoting Apollo 18 seems to believe people are going to see the film on false pretenses - that some of us, any of us, are keen to believe that a videotape of an aborted moon landing involving extraterrestrials has not only survived, but made its way into the hands of filmmakers/public servants who are finally showing us what really happened.

But not since a handful of people were fooled into believing The Blair Witch Project was real has anyone bought into the legitimacy of any so-called "found footage," which has since turned into its own subgenre.

The thing is, I'm sure the PR folks and filmmakers know this. I'm sure they know that everyone is aware of the gimmick. But that doesn't explain why they insist, during the closing credits, on directing us toward a website - LunarTruth.com - that will expose (!) the whole bloody affair.

It's not just silly - it's pointless. The marketing strategy seems to be this: Manufacture the façade of a secret moon landing from decades ago, and use that fakery to sell the movie, even though everyone knows it's fakery. I'm still trying to wrap my head around what logical purpose that serves.

Is it just intended be part of the fun? Maybe. Probably. But instead it comes across as a needless and redundant exercise, and a waste of energy. Any content worth seeing would be in the movie itself, right?

What does all of this have to do with the actual film? Not a whole lot, I guess. But it does reinforce my feeling that no one really knows quite what to do with the faux-documentary style. Not even the marketing department.

In terms of the films themselves, the style generally outlives its usefulness after about five minutes - Blair Witch and Cloverfield being notable exceptions. In the case of the former, it was one-of-a-kind (at the time) and its marketing was effective enough to fool some into thinking it was legitimate. (The film played right into that, too, since it showed us virtually nothing that could be written off as blatantly false.)

(Except the acting.)

(Zing.)

But along comes Apollo 18 twelve years later, when the technique has long since grown stale. Its conceit is that, back in 1974, the government launched a clandestine lunar mission. No, before you ask, the film never properly convinces us why the mission would have been so hush-hush from the beginning .

A reason is given, of course, but it doesn't hold up to scrutiny in the slightest.

The trio of Ben Anderson (Warren Christie), Nate Walker (Lloyd Owen) and John Grey (Ryan Robbins) is sent out to the moon to, I don't know, "collect samples" or something. Of the mission's secrecy, the men ask few (if any) questions. Until, of course, they actually get to their destination and find an uninvited guest or two.

Apollo 18 has one great visual concept involving moon rocks, and the strange characteristics they seem to exhibit. Director Gonzalo López-Gallego utilizes this idea to great effect in one scene, using the flash of a camera to give us brief and tantalizing glimpses of . . . well, something . . . happening at the bottom of a crater.

But that's just one good idea, and the rest of the time we're stuck watching uninspired suspense and waiting for the documentary format to justify itself. More often than not, it doesn't. The few scenes where it works don't make up for the rest of the film.

Not to mention that it makes absolutely no sense why any tapes of this doomed little space adventure exist in the first place. Are we to assume the government executives who masterminded this "top secret" mission were interested in posterity?

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