Apollo 18 (2011)
A fundamental requirement of cinema is that the audience suspends their sense of disbelief. Anything that breaks this will immediately has a negative impact upon the viewing experience. There are many things can severe this connection but the two most common seem to be obvious plot holes and Scooby Doo behaviour IE “Let’s split up…”. If these are the result of simply poor film making, then they can perhaps be forgiven. Every director has to learn their craft. However, if these two factors are present by design, then that is an unpardonable sin. Assuming that your audience is stupid, is insulting and the worse sort of hypocrisy.
Apollo 18 has a strong start for a movie built around the found footage concept. It plays very nicely into the current appetite for conspiracy theories. The first thirty minutes where we meet the cast and learn of their covert mission to place monitoring equipment on the moon, is credible and intriguing. The cold war setting and the post-Watergate back drop do a lot to fuel the narrative. During this initial third of the movie, Apollo 18 plays more like a political thriller rather than a sci-fi shocker. But then director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego goes and jumps the shark and all the previous good work goes out the window. It’s a common problem with contemporary film making. I remember having exactly the same thoughts when I saw Paranormal Activity.
After a string of anomalous events a key character makes the most illogical leap of thought and as a result the credibility simply melts away. You see, I take the attitude that NASA astronauts are trained professional, hand picked because of their skills and analytical mindset. Maintaining rational under extreme circumstances must surely feature in their training. So, I simply do not buy into the idea that, because they’ve found an abandoned Russian Lunar Module, a dead cosmonaut, picked up radio interference, had the flag that they planted removed and found some unidentified marking in the lunar soil, naturally concluded that it must be extraterrestrials. Scientists simply do not think this way.
The rest of the film is arbitrary and derivative bug hunt, with obviously telegraphed jumps. The conclusion involving complicit government agencies is predictable and uninspired. This is a shame because the film is very well made from a technical perspective. But once again we have a production that demonstrates a clear understanding of visuals but not plot construction. Furthermore, Apollo 18 also seems to forget that it is a found footage movie, with scenes and dialogue that are contrived to be more cinematic and come dangerously close to breaking the fourth wall.
With reference to the plot holes, I unlike other critics was not particularly bothered about the nebulous nature of the alien life forms featured in the film. I am happy to watch movies without every answer being given to me on a plate. Life is seldom clear cut, is it? However, I do balk at the fundamental flaw that permeates Apollo 18. The film comprises of 16 mm & 35 mm cine footage along with video material from external cameras. Now the latter may well have been broadcasted and thus been received and recorded back on earth. But the cine film had to be collected and developed. Does the film not hinge on the premise that no mission has subsequently returned to the moon? Also, the Russian Lunar Module and US Command module where both destroyed, therefore eliminating any footage they may have had. No, this is simply bad screen writing and brings me neatly full circle to my original point that I started with.