MOVIE: Apollo 18 (2011)

apollo18I was recently down for a long weekend at my parents’ house, which is all the explanation I need to provide, I assume, for the fact I’m about to post a couple of reviews of cheesy sci-fi movies.  My mom and I are big fans of the craptastic genre; the worse the movie, the happier we are about it (to a certain point, mind you — even dedicated garbage-lovers like us occasionally turn a movie off after ten minutes of insufferable dumb-dom).

This one ended up surprising us, though.  We went into it expecting good-bad trashy sci-fi, and instead were rewarded with good-good trashy sci-fi.  I love it when that happens!

Aside from an intriguing story, which I’ll get to in a minute, this movie stood out to me as a primo example of how smart filmmakers can turn a low budget flick into a film as effective as its high-budget genre-mates.  We had just watched Gravity right before watching this (Mom hadn’t seen it yet), and while I was expecting that to make all sub-par special effects stand out as extra sub-par, I ended up being incredibly impressed by the scenes of weightlessness in Apollo 18.  They were just as believable as comparable scenes in Gravity (though obviously not done to the same extent/degree), and were done simply, primarily using camera angles and careful choreography of the actors’ body movements (plus one spinning pen trick).  Pretty cool.

The movie’s story begins with the publicly-announced cancellation of the Apollo 18 moon mission, due to budgetary concerns.  But on the sly, the crew is quickly informed the cancellation is a ruse — the mission is still happening, it’s just going to be disguised as a satellite launch to avoid arousing suspicion from the rest of the world.  The mission’s purpose is being kept quiet, the men are told, because it involves the installation of a series of sensors on the moon’s surface engineered to alert the U.S. government in case of an ICBM missile launch by one of its enemies.

At first, everything seems to be going as planned — two of the astronauts head down to the surface, the third remaining on the mothership in orbit, and begin setting up the sensors.  As they work, they also collect the usual rock samples, bringing them back aboard the LEM with them (obviously, they don’t realize they’re in a sci-fi movie, where even moon rocks cannot be trusted).

Day one goes great, they sleep well despite the cramped quarters, and the next day they head back outside for more work where they are startled to discover. . .

FOOTPRINTS.

Hey, did you leave these groovy prints, man?  No, man, did you?  No, man.  Well, who left ‘em, then? I don’t know, man! Why you askin’ me? This ain’t groovy, man!  These prints are trippy!  (I’m paraphrasing, based on the fact this is set in the 70s, when, for all you young’uns out there, people use to say “man” and “groovy” and “trippy” a lot.)

Because they don’t know any better (see above re: unaware they’re in a sci-fi movie), the astronauts decide to follow the prints, and manage to track them back to an abandoned Soviet LK lander.  Nearby, they also find the body of a dead cosmonaut.  Clearly, the Soviets know this lander is on the moon along with the cosmonaut(s) who flew it — so wait, did the U.S. know about this?  Was this a secret Soviet mission?  Is OUR secret mission actually about THIS secret mission?  This is totally harshing my mellow!

When the next morning our intrepid heroes arise to discover the flag they’d planted outside has vanished, they decide they’ve had enough and start packing their stuff up.  “Man, this is OUTTA SIGHT, and WE ARE OUTTA HERE.”

Only, naturally, this is a sci-fi movie (see above re: this is a sci-fi movie), so, of course, when they try to take off, the ship shakes so violently they’re forced to abort.  One of the dudes dons his space suit and ventures outside to try to figure out what’s wrong, but minutes later returns into view, screaming that something in his suit is attacking him.  Back on board, the men discover the only thing in the suit other than the guy and his brand new gaping chest wound is a moon rock.  The moon rock attacked him?  Can you dig it?  FAR OUT!  (I am so sorry — for the record, nobody in the movie actually talks like this; I just can’t help myself.)

From there, things go from “that’s not good” to “holy crap,” culminating in “daaaaang!”

In other words, we totally dug it.

I noticed Rotten Tomatoes gave Apollo 18 a score of only 24%, based on 60 or so critic reviews and that a lot of the complaints were about the movie’s slow start.  I attribute this to the fact this movie is erroneously classified as a horror flick instead of a science fiction one.  If you go into it expecting horror, you’re definitely going to find the lack of action in the first 45 minutes kind of frustrating.

On the other hand, if you go into it expecting science fiction, the first 45 minutes are all about a mission to the moon in 1974, complete with scenes of giddy weightlessness, a cool lunar module, and a group of astronauts embarking on their dream mission into the final frontier.  Nothing boring about that to us cool cats, that’s for sure! To us, the moon rocks that come to life and eat people at the end were just a bonus.

Anyway, definitely two thumbs up from us, and recommended if this is your kind of thing. Catch you on the flip side, man!

[Stream at Netflix | Buy/Rent at Amazon]

Genre: Science Fiction, Space Disaster
Cast: Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, Ryan Robbins, Ali Liebert, Andrew Airlie, Michael Kopsa , Erica Carroll

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4 Responses to “MOVIE: Apollo 18 (2011)”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    (LIZ)
    “Catch you on the flip side” has two interesting backgrounds. The 1st is, obviously, the reference to LP’s, especially the 45RPM singles, which had an “A Side” and a “B Side,” leading DJ’s to refer to the “B Side” as the “flip side”. That makes me think of the ’60’s and ’70’s. Then there’s the CB radio jargon, which meant “See you on the return trip”. That makes me think of the ’70’s and ’80’s.

    At any rate, your review was entertaining, and made me want to see the movie.

  2. RogerBW Says:

    You inspired me to give this a look (I didn’t bother when it first came out), but while I thought bits of it were excellent I didn’t overall feel as positive about it as you; the flip into horror mode for me devalued the nifty SF stuff that had come before. I like SF, and I can enjoy horror, but I think that if you’re going to mix them you need to mix them, not have one and then the other.

    • megwood Says:

      I’m surprised you thought the LEM looked spacious — I thought they did a good job of making it seem as cramped as it really would be (like them having to sleep practically on top of each other), while still allowing for room for them to move around on camera. But your complaint about the flip into horror mode is similar to the complaints I was reading online from critics — for a horror movie, it’s too slow getting started; for a space sci-fi movie, too many people get eaten.

      Personally, I still don’t feel like this IS a horror movie. To me, it was a sci-fi movie about aliens that aren’t friendly — very similar, in that regard, to Europa Report (which you did like, right?). I totally see your points, though, and that IS actually something that has really bugged me about a couple of other similar sci-fi movies — Sunshine and Event Horizon (especially the latter). For both those two, the sci-fi half was so great and so FUN and then out of the blue, BAM, it’s friggin’ Hellraiser out there!

      I’m cross-posting this on your blog, so we can continue over there if you wanna! Great review! I’ve been enjoying your posts!

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