Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Apollo 18 (2011)

So, that was fun.

Okay, I have to admit that I like these kinds of movies, not sure why, but I like the idea of them. There's something about space or the sea... some kind of abandoned ship in one of those places that appeals to me in a visceral kind of way. I loved Pandorum, Ghost Ship, Sunshine, and Event Horizon... probably others too, but I can't remember all of them... or maybe I just did mention every last one I've ever seen. Who knows? My point is that Apollo 18 is similar to those movies without being the same kind of rehashed plot. In many ways this movie is equal parts Sunshine (let's use that as an example) and Paranormal Activity, and it makes a fairly fun movie.

This is a found footage film and I think it works well as that except in a few cases where I was confused about where the shots were actually coming from. Some of the wider shots left me confused. I would assume that there is some explanation as to where they came from: the rover or something, but I found it a bit mystifying at times.

I also found the movie, although it was fairly short, to be very slow-paced. Now, usually I like slow-paced films, but this one seemed to be much less about creating a mysterious atmosphere than creating any believable bonds to the characters... or even creating true horror. I suppose this should be classified as a horror movie, but... well, it isn't very scary, nor is it very suspenseful. You know right away what's going to happen. You know the plot before the movie even begins. It becomes heavy-handed and somewhat clumsy at telling its own story.

The plot and story are both strong here, but again, the heavy-handedness of what the filmmakers are trying to say undermines a lot of what could have made the story great. So, no, this isn't a great movie. It was a fun movie. It was a movie I enjoyed watching for the most part, but it will never be one of those great movies I hold onto throughout my entire life.

The characters are basically there to exist. They don't really matter. You can tell me that you love Nate or Ben or John and tomorrow I'll forget who those characters even were. They don't matter. Their personalities don't matter. They could have been named gruff commander who is going to go crazy, dashing and handsome young captain who will die at the end while thinking about his family, and guy who basically does nothing in the course of this movie and it would basically come down to the same thing. Or they could all be named Man and that's about as much characterizations as we get out of them. They are astronauts. They are cool people who are doing something awesome. Heroes, not villains. Well, that's what you get out of characters.

The setting is the mainstay of this movie. It's the freaking moon. Everybody wants to go to the moon and everybody was unhappy when the moon program was cancelled due to budget cuts and such. So, a horror movie based off of an unheard of mission to the moon with everybody dying horrible deaths?I think everybody loves hat premise. And it was executed well, not perfectly, but certainly predictably. Obviously the Soviets had to land somebody on the moon too, obviously they didn't return, obviously the American lander would get broken and they'd have to use the Soviet ship to escape, and obviously they would all die. Oh, and obviously there would be moon monsters because what fun is making any movie when you don't have moon monsters? If I ever make a movie I'm inserting moon monsters into it regardless of what genre the movie is. If it's a freaking romantic comedy there will be moon monsters. The movie will take place on the moon and it will be about moon monsters falling in love.

Okay, I'm being dumb, but I'm trying to make a point here. The moon monsters are dumb. The phrase moon monsters is not intimidating, it is not scary. Showing those moon monster spiders is basically undermining the entire premise of me trying to be afraid of something unknown. I see that they are moon monster spiders. What's there to be afraid of? Just spray some bug spray or something... whack 'em with a hammer, and you're good. I'm obviously trying to be a big jokester, but my point is valid. Showing the moon spiders just makes the monster a whole lot less scary. I was much more intrigued when the monster was a simple rock. The moment it started movie inside of old grizzled commander's helmet I found myself chuckling at the obvious CGI. It took me right out of the movie. I mean, it didn't happen often with the monsters, and for the most part it was handled pretty well, but it was a huge misstep and left me with a shattered perception of a moon movie without crazy moon monsters.

The moon shots were well done for the most part, and I really did like it when the young heroic astronaut was inside of the crater. That was incredibly well done, with the flashing light or whatever that was supposed to be. Although why he just didn't have a flashlight is beyond me. Is there some reason that flashlights don't work on the moon that I don't quite understand? Again, don't get me wrong, I thought the scene was well done, but a flashlight would have been superior for what they were doing unless moon flashlights don't exist, which I suppose is a valid reason for them not using one. I just have no idea myself, and it stuck in my mind as a question. Both crater scenes were well done. I liked how I literally could not tell what was going on in either scene and there was a big hectic feeling all around. I liked that. It was well paced and well done all around. If that had been the only time we see the little moon monsters, I would have been okay with it, but no... no, of course that's not the only time.

As for other elements of the movie... uh... when they're in the spacesuits, it's pretty cool. I mean, that had to be fun for the actors. The Soviet lander was a nice, if all too predictable, touch. I liked it when they notice the different footprints in the moon dust. That was neat and had the exact right tone for what was happening. Sometimes the acting was not the best, and there were certain "What the hell is going on?" moments from the actors that felt incredibly hammy. A lot of movies insist on using that line, and I suppose it might be used if we were in that situation in real life, but the delivery of the lines just did not do the line justice at all and came off as hammy all around. It's a nitpick, but I've seen that line used poorly way too often and I want to say that it's a real problem.

The radio sounds were also a nice touch, but they did get old after a while, kind of bogging down the movie, being a convenient and not readily explainable reason for the two mooned astronauts to be cut off from everybody else. I thought it was kind of silly towards the end of the movie even if early in the movie the communications disruptions were subtle and appropriate.

Oh, and I have to say that the government being full of awful people is always something I have to like. There's something about a bunch of bad men who are absolutely ruthless running the country that appeals to me so much even though I'd absolutely hate it. The government, in this movie, are absolute jerks (I want to use a harsher word than jerk by the way.) and I love every second of knowing that those careful jerks are probably right about their logic. I don't particularly think that the government is well portrayed in this movie if you want a sympathetic and namby-pamby (That's a term, right?) government, but if you want a ruthless, "We're sending you guys out there to see what's out there and also so that you probably all die alone in space." type of of government, that's the one you get in this movie. I love to hate them. It's fantastic.

Altogether, I did like this movie even if it was all over the place in terms of pacing, plotting, and quality. It was predictable, sure, but I, for one, would have been disappointed if certain elements weren't there. It was a fun movie and one that anybody who is a fan of these sorts of movies should try out. If you don't like found footage films or movies like Pandorum, Sunshine, or Event Horizon... I guess Solaris counts as well... then you should avoid it.

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