There be spoilers here.
Everyone knows that Apollos 18, 19, and 20 were cancelled in 1970 due to budget cuts, leaving 1972’s Apollo 17 as the final official mission to the Moon. However, in 2011, 84 hours of footage were uploaded to http://www.lunartruth.com which purported to be of a secret mission to the Moon (a “Black Op–ollo,” if you will). The film Apollo 18 (2011) is an edited version of that footage.
Of course, this is all rubbish, much like the film itself. The film opens with excerpts of interviews with the three astronauts (Nate, Ben, and John) who make up the crew for the Apollo 18 mission, intercut with 8mm footage of a friendly family barbecue hosted by one of them. This is supposed to serve as a way for us to get to know and become attached to the characters, but they’re such frustratingly two-dimensional all-Americans that you just want whatever bad thing that’s going to happen to them to happen.
Throughout the 86 minute run time of Apollo 18, director Gonzalo López-Gallego includes every single found footage movie cliche – you can almost picture him sitting with the script and a checklist and ticking them off. As mentioned, there’s a small amount of scene setting, during which the question of how astronauts were snuck to the Moon is deftly answered (super heavy Defence payload which requires a Saturn V rocket), we’re introduced to the cast out of the scary context which the rest of the film sits in, and before long, weird things involving clicking and flickering lights and missing moon rocks begin to happen.
In one of the film’s better twists, Nate and Ben, the crew members who land on the Moon leaving John behind in orbit, find footprints leading to a Russian LK lunar lander, and a nearby cosmonaut with his helmet removed and face destroyed. This cosmonaut is found in a pitch dark crater by Ben, with only a camera flash for light, raising the question why these guys don’t have torches (answer: the plot). After a while, it becomes clear that the US Department of Defense, who supposedly set up the mission in order to get some super secret missile tracking stuff to the Moon, knew what they were sending their boys into. They knew there was a Russian mission to the Moon which was unsuccessful for some mysterious reason, and so they sent their NASA playthings off to be guinea pigs in an environment controlled by…ROCK SPIDERS.
As the astronauts become more and more suspicious about their reason for being there, they begin to question the integrity of their superiors. In one of the cleverer things the film does to raise the tension, contextualising references are made to Watergate and increasing suspicion of the government in 1970s America. The use of this era of history also serves to make comparisons to this Wikileaks era we live in – hence lunartruth.com. The astronauts realise they were fools to trust the Defense Department and now they have to find some way to get off that rock.
Unfortunately, the rock spiders have other ideas and when they attack Nate and give him Paranoid Zombie Blood Poisoning Disease and his head explodes, DoD refuses to allow the crew to return home. Our heroes won’t have this, and though the rock spiders have already damaged the NASA lunar module beyond repair, Ben heroically decides to trek across the lunar landscape back to the Soviet lander to use that the get back to the orbiter and begin the journey home. This raises the question of how a NASA astronaut could know how to use a Soviet lunar module (answer: “Their technology is similar to ours!”)
Of course, nothing is that easy, and Ben has brought with him inside the LK module a bunch of rock spiders. They go crazy, attack him, he dies, and the module crashes into the NASA orbiter, killing John as well. So, in typical found footage style, nobody gets out alive and it’s all deeply unsatisfying. But at least we have a reason why we’ve never been back to the Moon! Oh yes, and a closing caption reveals that the Nixon and Ford Administrations gave moon rocks away as gifts and now tonnes of them are missing. So there are moon rocks among us all. Look out, world.
To the film’s credit, it’s well produced. The aspect ratio changes frequently, suggesting the different types of film and cameras used, and the film grain effects applied over the footage are very effective. Set and costume design are both top notch. Despite Apollo 18 being a found footage film, much of the “footage” comes from fixed cameras attached to the lunar module or set up on the Moon’s surface. Of course, this raises the question of how footage that wasn’t transmitted to NASA made it back to earth (answer: don’t think about the fine print).
However, this doesn’t change the fact that Apollo 18 is really just Paranormal Activity: Lunar Road Trip! It’s not as horrifying, it is less thrilling, and it’s a wasted opportunity for cool space stuff. I don’t even recall seeing a shot of the NASA lunar module on the Moon’s surface. I suppose really that if you want cool space based thrills, you should watch Gravity or Interstellar. You could buy two copies of Apollo 18 on BluRay – one for you and one for a mate – for the same price as one either of those…but honestly, don’t. Don’t even pirate it. Save your bandwith and your 86 minutes. This film is just not worth it.
You can find previous Movie Tuesdays here.