SEPTEMBER 2, 2011
Not frequent enough to have my head checked, but I have a recurring nightmare about being stranded in space. Sometimes the cast of Armageddon is there (overdosing on the movie is probably what started it), but it’s always similar – I’m on some sort of ship that I can walk around on the outside (like an observation deck on a skyscraper) and heading toward the sun or some other danger. Like most dreams, it’s hard to really clarify, but suffice to say that what little I managed is more exciting and interesting than anything in Apollo 18.
(I should also note that I did not have this nightmare last night – another sign of the movie’s failure to generate even a modicum of terror.)
The most impressive thing about the movie is that it actually managed to be weaker than I thought. It’s been bounced around the schedule and supposedly re-edited, which is never a good sign. But that’s nothing new for Dimension anyway, so I was hoping if nothing else it would be a fun bad movie, or at least generate enough cheap thrills to warrant a pass, not unlike Paranormal Activity 2 (I’ve already forgotten everything about that one, except for the damn pool filter). Sadly, it couldn’t even manage that much, and even more tellingly, the audience I saw it with (which was a lot larger than I expected) seemed just as bored, with only a few scattered screams and gasps. I mean, I’m going out at midnight on opening day because I want to have a review up – these folks are legitimately excited about seeing it and even they were unimpressed.
Now, pretty much all found footage movies can be considered boring or slow paced – unlike a normal movie, we have to get to know our heroes very quickly since we’ll be hearing them more often than seeing them, which is why the first few minutes of these things are always our heroes cracking jokes and goofing off – it will supposedly endear them to us in a quick, efficient manner. But this time, whether it be budget or just a gross miscalculation on the writers’ part, we barely even know our guys’ names before they blast off to space. Hell you can probably watch this entire movie in the time it takes Harry and the others to get to the asteroid in Armageddon! Slow down!
And that leads directly into the other major issue: the moon is a cool location for any movie EXCEPT a found footage one. Not only is it a lot harder to get that “this is happening to ME!” feeling that a Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity can offer (with Paranormal you can be afraid to go home after – but here? I’m not going to the goddamn moon any time soon), but a giant part of what makes the moon (or any planet/star) a potentially scary location is the sense of how vast and empty it is. Well, you can’t really get that sense of awe or dread when even the exterior shots seem to be cramped. The shuttle isn’t particularly big, which at least allows for some minor feeling of claustrophobia, especially when one of the crew starts to go nuts – there’s nowhere for the other guy to go. But when they go outside and walk around on the moon, the camera is usually pointed at the ground, so it just looks like badly color timed dirt, instead of one of the most awe-inspiring places in the galaxy.
Another issue – the moon isn’t known for being bursting with life, which limits the “What is happening?” scenarios. There are really only two guys in the movie (the third just orbits around waiting to pick them up later), and they instantly kill their one chance of adding mystery to the proceedings. It doesn’t take long for them to stumble across a Russian ship, but they also find the (dead) sole occupant fairly quickly, and even if we weren’t told almost instantly that there is only one of them, the size of his craft could barely fit another person anyway. A crazed Russian (or hell, even a scared one offering information) could have improved matters considerably, but instead he’s long dead and his corpse is just used for a quick jump scare or two before we move on to our real villain.
Spoilers ahead, I guess.
So what IS up there? A ghost? Humanoid aliens? Optimus Prime? Nope. It’s... wait for it... tiny moon spiders. That’s it. They’re about 3 inches long and occasionally we see one scurry around in the corner of a frame, and that’s about it. One infects one of our heroes (not really a spoiler, the trailer shows it since it’s one of the few quantifiable bits of action in the entire film) and he goes crazy, so it becomes a minor survival tale as he starts destroying equipment and the other guy tries desperately to make contact with the orbiting ship and/or NASA and get the hell out of there. But not only does this take forever to get going, it’s also incredibly unexciting, and by now we know that they’re not creative or daring enough to do anything cool. As with all found footage movies (SPOILER!) everyone dies, but they could have solved two problems with one minor change – have our two non-infected guys return.
See, not only would this allow for a more sinister ending (they come back, tell NASA what they saw, and are then “disappeared”), but it would also answer another question – who the hell found this footage? We know some of it is being transmitted back to NASA, but a lot of it is shot with 16mm film cameras – you can’t just beam that shit down. I admit I dozed a couple times, so if this was addressed let me know – but given the rather admirable attention to detail and selling the period nature by using outdated equipment, I somehow doubt they came up with some magic explanation for how threaded, undeveloped 16mm film could possibly be “transmitted” down to NASA.
Which just brings us back to the fact that the found footage approach was the real villain here. Shot as a normal movie, this might have been a decent little space thriller, because whenever things got slow they could always go to one of those cool “tiny guy standing on a giant body of land” shots (like, er, Moon), or maybe follow one of the damn moonspiders around as it crawled toward a sleeping intended victim, but with everything needing a motivation to be filmed, it completely cripples what minimal thrills or dread that the movie could offer. And, minor in the grand scheme of things, but the wraparound (the best parts of the movie, and it’s just text on screen) tells us that this is the assembled cut of 84 hours of footage, from some conspiracy theorist types. Well, if that’s the case, why did they include the astronauts telling dick jokes? I guess the guys at “Lunar Truth” not only want to expose NASA, but also demonstrate their attempts at crafting a traditional three act structure.
Hilariously, earlier this week NASA felt compelled to issue a statement stressing that the movie was not real (no shit) but also that they weren’t involved beyond the very initial stages of pre-production and haven’t even seen it. These are the same folks who just a couple months ago worked with Michael Bay (him again!) and more or less endorsed Transformers 3, which also involved secret space missions. The fact that they were fine with that thing but wipe their hands clean of this is pretty telling, and you guys should take the 10-11 bucks you would have spent on a ticket and donate it them. I hear those dudes are broke.
What say you?