Movies about secret NASA missions should be pretty awesome, and the worst thing about the newest influx of found footage movies is that they're almost all about ghosts, so I had pretty high hopes for Apollo 18 when it was released in the late summer of 2011. Even with two huge red flags (it was a Dimension production, and it was bumped around the schedule a couple times), I figured it'd be at least one of the more interesting options, and even opted to see it before Shark Night, which came out the same day. Yes, I chose moon spiders over a 3D Kat McPhee in a bikini - THAT was how sure I was of the film's merit.
Sadly, it was a crushing disappointment, and when it wasn't boring me to tears it was merely frustrating me - throughout the film I found myself wondering why they opted to make it a found footage movie in the first place, as it was severely handicapping the filmmakers' ability to tell the story or scare the audience. But then the DVD came out and had a commentary track plus deleted scenes/endings, so I checked it out hoping to get some answers and maybe walk away thinking that it was just another instance of Dimension ruining a film. And my opinion did improve some, but not enough to qualify it as a win.
And then last week I realized that I hadn't done a found footage movie yet for Minute By Minute, so.... third time's the charm? Let's find out!
00:00 - Grainy/scratched film reel stuff. No Dimension logo! I believe that there are some scientific studies showing that seeing the Dimension logo at the top of a film automatically deflates all audience optimism.
01:00 - Home movie footage of one of our astronaut heroes.
02:00 - Ben Anderson, one of our hero astronauts (and Taylor Kinney lookalike) inspecting some of the equipment they'll be taking with them.
03:00 - Astronaut John Grey giving his pre-flight interview. He spends the entire movie floating in the shuttle above the moon and thus never really interacts with the others, so enjoy one of the few shots in the film where you see him with his co-stars.
04:00 - Liftoff! Part of the problem with this movie is that they rush into space, giving us little chance to connect with our heroes (or familiarize ourselves with their voices - once suited up it's hard to tell who's who). I mean, you can watch this entire movie in the time Armageddon spends on the ground before they go off into space.
05:00 - Cramped shot of the guys in the shuttle.
06:00 - Video (?) footage of the two guys in the pod after separating from the main shuttle. Again, rushing through things - with three guys on the moon, there's a chance something happens early. With two guys; not so much - if one gets hurt/dies the other has no one to interact with (or hold the camera while he does something). And since so little happens once they get there, this is the rare found footage film that would have benefited from more "dicking around" scenes, so we would at least form more of a bond with these guys.
07:00 - Shot of the moon surface.
08:00 - Video footage of Ben, working some controls.
09:00 - Shot of Ben and third astronaut Nate Walker.
10:00 - Nice shot, actually.
11:00 - Shot of both guys on the moon surface. The camera is zooming in, somehow.
12:00 - One of the few big wide shots (remote filmed from their pod, I guess?) that show the men on the surface with a lot of background. One of the problems with the movie is that they're on this vast surface that's severely limiting their movement, the amount of action, etc, but barely ever make up for it by showing it off. It's the moon! Let us see big craters and such, not closeups of the ground you're walking on. It's like setting your film at Disneyland and pointing the camera at Space Mountain's maintenance room for 95% of the runtime.
13:00 - Shot of one of the guys setting up some sort of device on the surface.
14:00 - Ben and Nate discuss dinner plans. It's one of many scenes that don't fit in the movie's backstory fiction - we're told at the top that this footage we're watching was assembled out of 80+ hours of recovered film/tape, for the sole purpose of exposing the coverup. OK, then why include this "getting to know you" stuff? What will the public gain from knowing that Ben preferred carrots to peas? It's why it's usually best to just say "someone found the tape and here it is", if explaining it at all.
15:00 - Shot of Nate fiddling with controls.
16:00 - Shot of Ben getting ready for bed.
17:00 - Same shot, but Ben is now waking up after hearing something. This was probably the first scare scene in the film, most of which amount to hearing a clatter or seeing something out of the corner of their eye.
18:00 - Ben looking around worriedly as someone on the radio (John?) tells him that they'll "look into it".
19:00 - Shot of the guys sleeping as we hear the "cockle-doodle-do" of a rooster (via alarm clock, sadly).
20:00 - Shot of Nate floating around the pod.
21:00 - Ben and Nate pondering about an unbagged sample.
22:00 - One of them pressing buttons. David from Prometheus would be pleased.
23:00 - Grainy footage suffering from light leak of one of the guys walking on the surface.
24:00 - Footprints!
25:00 - Ben and Nate approach what they believe to be a Russian pod. Spoiler: it is.
26:00 - Ben and Nate investigate the Russian pod.
27:00 - Same.
28:00 - Part of what is an overused gimmick in modern horror movies: using a camera flash to illuminate a darkened area. They all play out the same, flashes 1 and 2 show nothing, flash 3 will show a zombie or creature off in the distance, flash 4 will have it right next to the guy with the camera.
29:00 - Camera glitches. Doesn't matter if it's the 1970s or today, the filmmakers behind these movies love to give 2-3 minutes' worth of their film over to the camera going haywire.
30:00 - One of them finds the Cosmonaut's cracked helmet.
31:00 - Video shot of Ben and Nate giving a report to NASA.
32:00 - Ben voicing his concerns to Nate.
33:00 - One of the few mid-film shots of John, just sort of commenting on the moon.
34:00 - The guys sleeping again.
35:00 - Ben noticing something outside. If memory serves, this is the terrifying bit where they discover that one of the moon spiders stole their flag.
36:00 - Ben and Nate talk to John about the Russian. Another dumb move was to have the Russian be alone and dead, with no video evidence of what happened to him - it could have broken up the monotony immensely, and given the film some The Thing flair with a mysterious video in another language.
37:00 - Ben and Nate still discussing the Cosmonaut.
38:00 - Slowly zooming footage of the moon surface.
39:00 - Ben looking concerned. Perhaps he's watched a rough cut of the movie up until this point.
40:00 - Video of Ben giving a report.
41:00 - One of them looking around outside while talking to the one still in the pod.
42:00 - Very glitchy shot of a ladder and a robot car of some sort.
43:00 - Nate on the surface, worried something's inside his suit.
44:00 - Ben filming himself going to rescue Nate. A staple of all found footage movies is the "no sane person would be filming this moment" scene, but for some reason it feels exponentially idiotic here. At least in a Blair Witch or Grave Encounters one can say "Well they're filmmakers and their whole purpose of going there was to make a documentary", but that was not the case here.
45:00 - Ben trying to get Nate's helmet off. The scene would be way more interesting if they were outside.
46:00 - Moon surface footage from John's POV.
47:00 - An upside down John talking to NASA. Minute by Minute is revealing that he's in this more than I remembered.
48:00 - Ben confronting Nate about his now-odd behavior.
49:00 - Ben searching Nate's suit while audio from the previous scene plays. One sort of interesting thing about this movie is that the film footage doesn't always have sync sound, so we often hear things from different scenes overlapped with other footage. Blair Witch did this very briefly; since most other FF films are entirely video shot there's no need for it.
50:00 - Ben trying to extract the moon spider from Nate's torso. And as you can see, the image square - one of the few things about this movie I really liked was that they stuck to details, presenting a lot of the footage at 1.33:1 as it should be, instead of stretching it out. Paranormal Activity 3 took place in the 80s yet everyone had 16x9 footage!
51:00 - More grainy video footage.
52:00 - Nate filming Ben as they ponder what their mission was REALLY about.
53:00 - Nate being all paranoid. It's another instance where the found footage approach really hurt this particular story - they could have done a lot with the idea that NASA is using them as guinea pigs in a mission to spy on aliens (the moon spiders), but we have to get all of this information via their theories and cramped video footage of them sitting around saying so. NASA is the film's true villain, but they're a complete non-entity.
54:00 - Can you spot the moon spider? Hint: if you split the image in quarters it'd be the bottom right square. Our monster! Oh, and on the commentary, they call them "moonsters". Yep.
55:00 - A shot of Nate's infected injury.
56:00 - John doing his "floating around while listening to NASA" thing. This actor must have had a blast; almost every one of his on-screen appearances has him in mid air.
57:00 - Grainy video shot of Ben.
58:00 - Ben filming himself giving a report. It's sort of the "Heather apologizes" moment of the movie, albeit without as much snot.
59:00 - Same.
60:00 - Exactly one hour in, a threat is posed to our hero! Nate's infection takes over and he's sort of zombie-looking.
61:00 - Nate's looking even worse!
62:00 - Nate freaking out, breaking shit on the pod. It's kind of funny because the thing is about the size of an airport shuttle van, so there's not a lot he can do really.
63:00 - John, upside down, chilling.
64:00 - Ben asking Nate to film. I guess at this point you'd either hate the movie anyway, or be on board and thus not mind that our non-infected hero just asked the nearly dead, increasingly monstrous guy to film their newest excursion on the moon surface, because god forbid they just not film this stuff and explain what happened later.
65:00 - Even sillier, Ben fixes the camera to show them both as they drive a moon buggy. Wouldn't aiming the camera at what they were seeing be of more use to whoever they were filming this stuff for at this point?
66:00 - Camera glitches.
67:00 - More footprints!
68:00 - Ben filming Nate, who is about to kill himself. First thing they teach you at NASA: Never drop your video camera.
69:00 - Another flash scene, 28:00 style.
70:00 - Ben inside a pod of some sort. The Cosmonaut's, if memory serves.
71:00 - Ben trying to establish radio contact. This is another example of how the movie's cramped format hurt the scariness - in reality this is a pretty awful thing to imagine: being stranded on the goddamn moon. But the movie never gave us a good sense of that isolation, or even the scale of the thing, so for all we know (via the movie), he's just in some tiny gravel pit trapped inside a Winnebago. "Space Oddity" does a better job at getting this sort of fear across to the audience.
72:00 - Ben talking to a government official.
73:00 - One of the film's few successful dramatic moments, as Ben learns that no rescue is coming and that they will let his family know that he died a hero.
74:00 - Ben fiddling with something off camera.
75:00 - Ben just sitting there.
76:00 - Ben getting the Russian ship up and running.
77:00 - Nate banging on the door to the pod.
78:00 - Closeup on Ben as he's lifting off.
79:00 - Pretty much the same shot.
80:00 - Same. Stuff is happening in between, I'm sure. Just poor Minute by Minute-ing on their part.
81:00 - The movie's depiction of its climax. What happens is, Ben gets infected and the two ships collide, killing them both. Originally, this didn't happen, and John went back to NASA where they presumably offed him later. Not only would this ending have been better and more chilling, but it would also explain something the movie never does: HOW THE FUCK DID THE FOOTAGE GET BACK TO EARTH? I highly doubt NASA would send some guys up there to retrieve it, and even if so, how'd they get the film footage out of the ship that just exploded? The DVD explains that the theatrical ending was assembled out of footage that they already had for four other endings (including one where we'd see giant moon spiders!), which explains why it makes no damn sense whatsoever, and also basically occurs off-screen to boot.
82:00 - First line of the film's text wrapup, which hints that foreign dignitaries were given the infected moon samples.
83:00 - Some of the movie's very tiny credits. Mostly editing guys.
84:00 - Set construction credits.
85:00 - Visual effects credits. Thank them for the moon spiders!
86:00 - Special thanks and "provided by" credits. Swatch gave them the watches!
And that's it, final run time 86:27.
This has oddly been the rare case where Minute by Minute reveals that a movie is slightly more exciting than I gave it credit for, as I fully expected that I'd be writing "One of the astronauts doing nothing" for 90% of the entries. My two main issues with the film, however, remain true: 1. The found footage approach made zero sense for this particular movie to begin with, and they made it even worse with the "everyone dies" ending. 2. The thing that should be inherently scary (being on the moon) never fully comes across, leaving just the little moon spiders, which are possibly the lamest horror/sci-fi villain in ages. I've certainly seen worse found footage horror films (as lame as this is, it's still better than at least half of 2012's offerings, including the fourth Paranormal Activity), but it stings a lot more when they bungle up such an awesome concept.