I finally got to watch this recently and had been looking forward to the film. The reason for this was the science fiction setting of the movie: I’ve always found the moon conspiracy stuff fascinating and fertile narrative ground for film and narrative. I loved Capricorn 1 as a child and I was hoping that Apollo 18 could recreate some of that magic – just in a different fashion.
The film follows the factually cancelled 'Apollo 18' mission to the moon - that is secretly reinstated in the movie. It is filmed in a found-footage style made famous by The Blair Witch Project: the idea being that recovered footage from the moon has found its way onto the internet and has been edited for our scrutiny. The suggestion is that there is a reason the United States (or any other country for that matter) didn’t return to the moon: that they discovered something horrific there that required further investigation.
The film very much follows in the footsteps of the Paranormal Activity Series, which in itself isn’t a bad thing. Audiences swiftly become jaded to series tricks, but the first Paranormal Activity film (up until the denouement) did scare a lot of people at the cinema and can be quite creepy, watched in the house on your own with the lights off. Unfortunately, Apollo 18 doesn’t even have the same cheap-thrill charm as that first film. It’s not that Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego’s instincts are off about the setting. The lunar surface could have made a sinister landscape and the LEM an appropriately claustrophobic location. The effects are good and the actors, Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen and Ryan Robbins, do a fine job. It’s the direction Lopez-Gallego and writer Brian Miller take the story that’s the problem. They have some fun with some of the moon hoax details (not unlike the attempt made by Transformers 3) but ultimately take us to a fairly dull place in terms of narrative and tension. In this way I think of Apollo 18 as a missed opportunity. There’s a good initial idea in there but I feel that even with the actors cast and sets built, Apollo 18 could have risked and benefitted from a last minute change to the script and story.
One interesting thing I did discover when checking the film out on IMDB was that the movie in its entirety only cost $5 million dollars to make. That’s pretty cheap for a film that is heavy on handsome extra-terrestrial sets and lunar landscapes. The film models its style on real Apollo footage – even down to the movement of astronauts and vehicles on the moon and in the zero-gravity conditions of space. The actual Apollo 11 mission cost $335 million dollars – which equates to $1.75 billion dollars today. Sticking with the conspiracy theme, it would have been cheaper to have faked going to the moon than actually going there! Certainly, in these cash-strapped times, Director Lopez-Gallego gets plenty of authenticity for his measely $5 million.