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Apollo 18

Entry updated 28 May 2021. Tagged: Film.

Film (2011). Dimension Films and Timur Bekmambetov present a Bekmambetov Projects Ltd production. Directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego. Written by Brian Miller. Cast includes Andrew Airlie, Warren Christie, Michael Kopsa, Lloyd Owen and Ryan Robbins. 86 minutes. Colour.

A Spacesuit Film in which US astronauts encounter Aliens on the Moon.

"We're witnessing what could be evidence of extraterrestrial contact."

Good aliens are hard to find. Where some register as Monsters or Supernatural Creatures and others as Life on Other Worlds or as meticulous exercises in Xenobiology, more still perform as simple amplifications of human stresses and fears. Rare is the extraterrestrial which convinces a viewer it is alive and well and behaving according to its own nature. The scurrying, crab-like rocks in Apollo 18 are so underwhelming, and so unlikely, that they lessen the intended impact of the film's Horror and obviate its painstaking, occasionally convincing, pretence of having been edited from Found Footage of a classified mission to the moon by the United States Department of Defense in December 1974.

Astronauts Commander Nathan Walker (Owen), Lunar Module Pilot Benjamin Anderson (Christie) and Command Module Pilot Lieutenant Colonel John Grey (Robbins) take off for the moon under the guise of an unmanned satellite launch: real footage of a Saturn 5 Rocket blasting off is inserted for the sake of verisimilitude. Ostensibly, the three-man crew is there to place "PSD5" sensors on the lunar surface to detect any nuclear missile launches by the USSR (see Cold War), but as Commander Nate Walker later insists to his colleague Ben Anderson: "We're guinea pigs." Command Module Pilot John Grey remains in orbit as Walker and Anderson first notice strange, out-of-place rock samples and audible noises of an unknown origin before discovering a bloodstained and abandoned Soviet LK Lander and a dead cosmonaut with a shattered helmet in a nearby crater. "How could there be Russians on the moon and no-one knows about it?"

The US Deputy Secretary of Defense (Kopsa) confirms over Communications that the US suspected the Soviets might be there. In fact, the Department of Defense expected not only Soviets but the presence of lifeforms on the lunar surface, with the Deputy Secretary telling its by-then "contaminated" astronauts – the wriggly rocks first breach the suits, then the bloodstreams of Walker and Andersen – that they will tell their families they died as Heroes. Grey attempts to rescue Andersen from the partially-defunct LK Lander – "Ben has been contaminated, do not recover Anderson – that is a direct order," insists the Deputy Secretary of Defense – but crashes the Command Module into the LK Lander in the attempt. As if to underline the absurdity of what has gone before, there appears a piece of credit-cookie text informing the viewer that Apollo Missions brought 840lbs of lunar rock back to Earth, most of which is missing or stolen (see Invasion).

To lean this close to the mundane (and astonishing) truth of the Apollo Missions, a film must seem to impart a still-greater truth. Apollo 18 so obviously seeks to replicate the visual register and box-office success of films like The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Paranormal Activity (2007) that it never for one moment seems as if its events might be a better explanation for NASA's abandoning its moon programme than spiralling costs, dwindling public interest and a focus on reusable space exploration Technology. The found-footage register impairs some of the character interplay despite understated performances from the cast and there are anomalies in the material, such as excerpts from home movies and cassette tapes. The visual design, however, is good. [MD]


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