By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic
Director Gonzalo López-Gallego’s “Apollo 18,” a purported exposé explaining why the U.S. never revisited the moon after Apollo 17, had me miffed. Why is it that folks are forever discovering film footage of a conspiratorial nature, whereas no one ever finds some sort of lost document proving that I am in fact the true heir to a European throne?
It pretty much works in reverse for celebrities who contend they were someone else in a previous life. They were never Max, a poor shoemaker in Minsk. Nope, dollars to donuts they were Attila the Hun or some other historical figure. Sensationalism sells. And let’s face it. Some people just like to be bamboozled. Our economy pretty much depends on it.
Hence, a mere film critic with no royal lineage—at least not yet—I trudged to work and ventured a look at this latest entry in the faux footage genre. But right from the get-go it’s apparent that neither the director nor the Weinstein Company behind him was playing this charade all the way. And it just doesn’t work if you don’t really believe it’s true.
Artistically, parts of the sham are rather impressive. While NASA buffs could easily pick apart a slew of inconsistencies, to the layperson the jargon and sociology surrounding the three astronauts picked for this hush, hush mission to the moon is convincing enough. But then, acceding to that is essentially an outer space version of humming the scenery.
The thing is, it’s supposed to suck you deep enough into its bogus atmosphere so it can then launch its second stage and turn into a horror film…but without ever admitting it. In this regard, I confess to lift-off on one particularly surprising occasion…sort of a lunar version of the cat jumping on the window sill and making the shade wind clatteringly.
Otherwise, rather wound myself in spoilsport mode, ever vigilant of what hocus-pocus might be perpetrated on me, my concentration was on the process. It is filmed well…a combination of black and white and color frames perhaps purchased wholesale at the film store if, alas, not found. If it were salvaged, it sure was kept in good condition.
And yeah, the reason there’s so much of it and shot from so many angles is, of course, because documentation from multiple cameras was deemed necessary for this Defense Department operation. It reminds me of the explanation one pundit gave when asked how they broadcast the first moon landing: The camera crew went up a week before to set up.
In any case, strip “The Emperor’s New Clothes” ploy from the production and it’s pretty much your usual outer space adventure yarn, only less. Once on the mass of green cheese, our guys make a few scary discoveries. And naturally that leads to lots of consternation, cursing, occasional screaming and, you’ll be proud to know, much valiant endeavor.
Point of disclosure: I don’t much care for conspiracies, fictional or actual. It’s a creepy subject and, more often than not, unfeasible. Have you ever tried to get five pals together for lunch, let alone convince a whole government agency to stay mum on a secret sojourn to the moon? But to iterate, there’s bunches of people who thrive on believing lies.
It’s part of the P.T. Barnum thing about a sucker being born every minute. What Mr. Barnum understood better than most is that, despite their better judgment, humans want to think there’s more to things than there really is. And so, even with modern science working at breakneck speed to address that yearning, the mythical tale is alive and well.
But lovers of a good conspiracy need be careful if they wish to maintain their integrity and consistency as full-fledged believers in life’s big backroom deal. They’ll need to pick and choose. I mean, if they subscribe to the theory that Apollo 11 really took place on a Hollywood sound stage, it would take some nutty rationalization to also buy into this.
The other film consumer we have to protect is the horror fiend. Because perhaps there just isn’t enough luridness in the news, and movie companies simply can’t pump out enough blood, guts and devastation to please them, they might resort to “Apollo 18” for a temporary fix, even if they don’t buy into the premise. They’ll be disappointed.
My screen door test affirms it. After I see a real bloodcurdler, there is an eerie quietness in my backyard, allowing me to hear every little sound as I walk up the driveway: leaves rustle, a dog barks in the distance, an unseen animal scrambles in the underbrush. But most telling is if the screen door creaks. Then the movie was really scary. No creak here.
“Apollo 18,” rated PG-13, is a Weinstein Company release directed by Gonzalo López -Gallego and stars Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen and Ryan Robbins. Running time: 88 minutes
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