Judge Patrick Naugle is content with Moon Pies and Yoo-hoo.
Our review of Apollo 18, published January 2nd, 2012, is also available.
There's a reason we never went back to the moon.
Jason went there. So did the Leprechaun. Heck, even Pinhead's been there—and that guy lives in the bowels of hell! I'm talking, of course, about beyond the stars and into the vast reaches of outer space. The great cosmos has hosted some of earth's biggest beasties and sometimes lends itself to terror beyond your wildest imagination. Although Apollo 18, now available on Blu-ray care of Anchor Bay, isn't one of those times.
Facts of the Case
December 7, 1972 marked the end of NASA's Apollo moon missions. Or so we thought. Apparently there was another mission called Apollo 18 that quietly took to the stars and met with a lot of disastrous happenings. Helmed by Captain Ben Anderson (Warren Christie), Lt. Co. John Grey (Ryan Robbins), and Commander Nathan Walker (Lloyd Owen), the Apollo 18 mission went off without a hitch until the final moon landing. In the vastness of space, these three space explorers noticed odd occurrences, including strange footsteps on the moon's surface, and an American flag that kept moving around on its own. What the men found could leave them stranded millions of miles away…making the moon their tomb!
It took me almost two days to get through Apollo 18, which should be an ominous sign for anyone looking to watch this found-footage-outer-space-horror film (wow, this movie covers a lot of genres). The premise certainly sounds interesting: what would happen if, on one of NASA's classic moon missions, the astronauts found…something? Or better yet, what if something found them? Unfortunately, Apollo 18's execution is about as thrilling as eating a packet of sardine flavored freeze dried astronaut ice cream.
Let me get this out of the way first: I have grown weary of "found footage" movies. As anyone who follows the horror knows, the granddaddy of this genre is The Blair Witch Project which took the idea of kids alone in the woods and turned it on its ear. This fresh subgenre of the late '90s quickly wore out its welcome with such movies as the monster on the loose flick Cloverfield, zombie maker George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead, and the new spectral franchise Paranormal Activity (as well as its two sequels). Classic horror franchises aren't immune to shaky-cam shots. Halloween: Resurrection and Hellraiser: Revelations utilized the technique, both to pitiful effect. But there is only so much narrative that can be squeezed out of watching the equivalent of home movies.
The revisionist theme of Apollo 18 held promise, but was squandered around the half way mark. The film lost me as it plodded its way through a vast collection of horror clichés: bad acting, bad writing, ho-hum effects work, and pacing issues even the best editors couldn't possibly fix. At a scant 87 minutes, this fees excruciatingly long. Seriously, if this movie moved any slower it would be going backwards.
The cast are all given a limited amount of space to work in, both in production and costume design. Due to the confines of the space capsule and their outfits, you never really get a good sense of who each character is. They all appear to be general, cookie cutter stock astronauts who spend a lot of time on garbled scientific information and yelling warnings home "not to come back to the moon!" Ryan Robbins, Lloyd Owen, and Warren Christine all feel interchangeable as actors, looking like unimpressive mid-'70s throwbacks, and that's about it.
** Spoiler Alert **
When the curtain is finally pulled back and the strange goings-ons are revealed, it's done with a whimper instead of a bang. Rocky Moon Crabs. Yep, you heard that right; that's what the aliens end up being…little moon crabs who can turn into lunar rocks. Not some really cool looking alien or even BIG moon crabs, but a dish you can get at your local Red Lobster. Talk about a monumental disappointment. For those expecting a really exciting payoff, Apollo 18 is a real letdown.
** End Spoilers **
While I disliked Apollo 18, I have to give credit to the filmmakers and production designers for creating a mostly realistic outer space setting on what must have been a rather limited budget. While everything else fall flats, director Gonzalo López-Gallego (this is his first English film) effectively conveys the monotony and vastness of space. The footage looks sufficiently old and there wasn't a moment when I didn't believe the astronauts weren't in outer space. I don't know how they pulled it off—computer effects, practical effects, or matte paintings—but I truly felt that these people were on the surface of the moon.
Apollo 18 (Blu-ray) lands with a 1080p high definition widescreen transfer that looks appropriately shoddy (flipping between 1.33:1 full frame and 1:85:1 widescreen, depending on the shot). I would complain about how bad it looks, but for once that's the point; Apollo 18 purposefully looks worn and beaten. The filmmakers have done a fine job with making their picture look like it was shot on '70s film stock while still retaining a clear crisp modern image. The soundtrack is presented in a lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, appropriately supportive of the film, but little else. The front-heavy mix only kicks into full surround mode during those standard horror movie moments (high pitched screeches, jump-scares, things scuttling across the background). Also included on this disc are English and Spanish subtitles.
Apollo 18 features a good dose of special features, including an audio commentary by director Gonzalo Lopex-Gallego and editor Patrick Lussier, nearly twenty minutes of alternate and deleted scenes, an alternate ending (that features Ben Anderson's various ways to die), and bonus digital and DVD copies of the film.
There has to be a way to make a compelling outer space horror movie. Aside from the Alien franchise, filmmakers have yet to figure this genre out. Apollo 18 is a classic example of a story with seeds of greatness that never get planted deep enough to flourish. Some of the film's outer space visuals are a miracle of production design, but movie goers can't thrive on visuals alone. Without a good script, scary aliens, or a decent pace, Apollo 18 is, well…lost in space.
One big cosmic bore.
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