Tuesday, September 20, 2011

“Apollo 18” – Is that really true?

There are certain things in life that never cease to amaze me. One is the negative progress made on the airplane boarding process. Air travel has been mainstream and available to anyone with twelve dollars (thanks to Frontier for allowing four-year old children to afford their own plane tickets), yet people still haven’t figured out when it’s their turn to get on the plane. Seriously, it takes three skills – hearing, reading, and being able to count from one to four. If you are unable to do all of those things, that four-year old should get to use your carry-on bag as a toilet. That giant number three on your boarding pass means you can get on the plane when you hear ‘three’ spoken over the intercom system. Until then, get the fuck away from the jetway.

Another thing is that people can’t tell the difference between truth and fiction. This explains a lot in our current culture, including Fox News’ and MSNBC’s audiences. Apollo 18 provided more evidence that the premise of the film Idiocracy is closer than we think. Apollo 18 is a found-footage film and opens with a couple of lines of text intended to make the film seem “true.” They tell us about the cancelled moon missions after Apollo 17, but that Apollo 18 was secretly reinstated as a Department of Defense mission and that footage of that doomed mission was posted on a website in 2011. From behind me, I heard a woman whisper to her husband “Is that really true?” This is how I know we are all doomed.

(Side note: A few days ago, right after I posted my review of Contagion, the headline story on CNN’s website was: “Contagion – Could it really happen?” Not only was this further evidence that the majority of people will believe anything you tell them, it led to a hilarious game with some friends where we substituted any movie title in that headline. “Independence Day – Could it really happen?” “Transformers – Could it really happen?” “Shrek – Could it really happen?” If this had been a drinking game, we would all be dead.)

Apollo 18 reminded me a lot of The Blair Witch Project. Besides the obvious similarity of both being found-footage films trying to convince people of their authenticity, they are both about a group of three people going on a journey who end up facing something supernatural (I realize supernatural might not be the best categorization of aliens, but that’s what they are until we find some). Along the way, strange little events occur and we become just as tense as the characters. The main difference is that in Apollo 18 the astronauts aren’t searching for the supernatural. They are simply on the moon to place cameras and sensors on orders from the military. But, they end up in the same situation as the kids in Blair Witch – stuck in a place because they waited too long to leave and just trying to find a way out. It’s the typical survivor story with a twist where the audience is more interested in seeing the supernatural beings than if the characters will survive. And, unlike that shy Blair Witch, we get to see the lunar troublemakers, albeit briefly.

I know a lot of people didn’t like The Blair Witch Project and I still don’t understand why. They came up with a new genre of film, created the most successful independent film of all time, and executed the most ingenious marketing campaign we’ve ever seen; managing to convince everyone for weeks that it was all a true story. I think people were really just pissed that they were duped for so long. Plus, it falls into the category of movies where people will say they hated it because it’s cool (incidentally, this category is called “Titanic and Other Movies People Lie About Hating”). Like Blair Witch, Apollo 18 provides tension, the actors are convincing, the story is tight and simple, and the footage really does seem authentic. Apollo 18 does an especially good job of making the footage appear to be from the early 1970’s and keep this consistent throughout. The continuity person gets extra kudos for sticking with this and not accidentally including things that don’t belong in that time, which would have been really easy considering the subject matter.

Perhaps the strangest thing about Apollo 18 is that its release date bounced around more than a beach ball. It was originally supposed to open last March, slid to April, then July, pushed all the way out to January of 2012, then, backed up to August, and finally released in September. I don’t know if this was part of the marketing strategy or if the film simply had a lot of production issues, but it detracted from its plausibility of being real by calling too much negative attention to itself.

Overall, I liked the movie and would recommend it to anyone who didn’t hate The Blair Witch Project. I know a lot of people didn’t like it because of the shaky camera. Had my wife not had the same issue, I never would have believed this was really a problem. However, Apollo 18 is much steadier in terms of its camera work and nobody should have any issues with it. Perhaps the funniest thing about the whole topic is that NASA released statements saying they were not involved in the production and also had to quell some of the conspiracy theorists on secret moon missions. Like I said, Apollo 18 – Could it really happen?

Rating: I don’t think you should ask for any money back even if you are mad that the movie wasn’t really true.

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