Friday, September 9, 2011


According to history as we know it, there were 17 NASA Apollo missions to the moon, six of which, in the words of John F. Kennedy, “successfully land[ed] a man on the surface of the moon and return[ed] him to earth”. Scientifically, socially, politically and in every way possible, the moon missions were an outstanding success, despite their cost (which in today’s terms would be considered minimal). So why haven’t we been back?

Merely a case of “been there, done that”? The American public does have an appalling lack of attention span. What, more moon rocks? Ho-hum. Rising costs, poor administration, lack of presidential leadership and support, squabbling about priorities within NASA itself, all took their toll until today the U.S. space program is a moonshadow of its former self.

But what if there was a more sinister reason we never went back to the moon? What if the Russians, then we ourselves discovered a secret so terrifying it threatened any future manned exploration of our closest celestial neighbor? That’s the basis of APOLLO 18, a “mockumentary”-style film in theaters now. The premise, that an 18th Apollo mission was sent to the moon under the pretense of a satellite launch, the public, the astronauts and their families told literally nothing about the mission, is built with great seriousness from the opening seconds. Title credits appear on the screen claiming that the film was edited from actual NASA footage just made available through the Freedom of Information Act after so many years, blah, blah, blah. There are no actors’, director’s or any other credits. We are directed to a website, for more details.

We’ve seen this kind of manipulation before, of course. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was the first major low-budget film to rake in the profits with a hand-held camera, no script and the illusion that this was REAL, guys! (I hated it. The camera work made me sea-sick and I kept yelling at the screen for the protagonists to follow the stream, not to cross it! Idiots!) Last year’s PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films did BLAIR WITCH one better by not even leaving the bedroom for their thrills and chills.

APOLLO 18 spent quite a bit more money to get the effect of the stark lunar surface, the distorted fish-eye camera angles we’re all used to seeing inside the tiny space capsules, and the important stuff when bad things start to happen. The result is both authentic enough to captivate and scary enough to make you jump out of your seat. That much I really enjoyed.

The problem I have with this style of movie-making is the seriousness with which the filmmakers take themselves. They never, never admit to the illusion they are creating. No, no, they say. It’s real. It really happened just this way! See—no credits! No actors! We have a website where we give you the facts!

Well, you know what? Bull! It’s a MOVIE! There was no Apollo 18. Moon rocks are just moon rocks. I’ve touched one, and it didn’t bite. But now thanks to this “reality film”, there will be idiots walking around who will think there were 18 Apollo missions and we stopped going to the moon because there are carnivorous rocks up there. Of course, they are the same ones who think the Blair witch is real and the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films recorded real events.

And the bachelor really picks a wife on TV. Give me The Twilight Zone any day.

NOTE: Donna’s Journal will return next week.

Cheers, Donna

1 comment:

  1. Donna, I haven't seen the film yet, but I'm with you. Pawning it off as a "real event" instead of hyping it for its fictional assets--which sound very appealing--amounts to overkill in sensationalism IMHO. Maybe their angle is everyone loves a conspiracy theory (Capricorn One on steroids) instead of calling a spade a spade (ala Marooned).

    Still, I'll probably go see it, just because it's a movie set in space, but I'd like to see the challenges of space exploration itself creatign the drama on the big screen (Apollo 13, anyone?).

    Maybe moviemakers should give their audiences a little credit for having the ability to suspend disbelief before attempting to be so in-your-face with the "facts."

    Alien and Aliens are two of my all-time favorite films, and they didn't need to resort to fake realism to become the blockbusters they were.


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