DECEMBER 26, 2011
There weren't too many people arguing with me when I reviewed Apollo 18 this past September during its (technically successful) box office run; there's a guy on Twitter who seems more defensive of it than any of its own filmmakers, but otherwise the consensus was that the movie didn't work. The found footage aspect was a terrible fit for the setting and story, and even with a barely feature length runtime, it was too slow and its scares too minimal to compete with the other big mockumentary films (the Paranormal Activity series, Rec and its remake, etc). Does it fare better at home on a second go around? And more importantly, does the Blu-ray's extensive collection of deleted scenes and alternate endings hint that this was once a much better film?
The answer to both is a very VERY soft "yes". Knowing that the movie was a pretty dull affair took out the initial "When is something going to HAPPEN?" frustration and allowed me to just accept the movie for what it is: an ambitious but deeply flawed attempt to meld the found footage approach with, well, the damn moon. On paper it actually sounds pretty awesome/intriguing - a secret lunar mission, 16mm film shot by the astronauts that has been recovered by some conspiracy website, etc. Plus, I was sort of charmed by the filmmakers' handicap - here they are one of the most expansive locations in the universe, and yet they're limited to a cramped module and its immediate surroundings. On top of that, they're limited to showing everything through the lens of dated camera technology - no zoom lens, no endless digital tape to let a camera record all night, not even real portability with the camera.
But all of that is exactly why the movie mostly fails. As with all found footage movies, the "why are they still filming?" question is a hurdle they need to jump, and in this particular movie they decide to keep filming because nothing happens. A rock ends up on the floor, and later they find a dead Cosmonaut, and that's pretty much all that happens until it's too late - one of the astronauts gets infected and they end up more or less marooned, and by then any sane audience member will have too many other issues with the narrative to care much about why our hero keeps turning his camera on. To their credit, the character is a terrible cameraman, and either he or the editor appears to have ADD as not a single shot in the movie lasts more than a few seconds (jump cuts occur more commonly than normal ones). The movie takes place over the course of a week or so, but only their constant marking of the time ("6 days, 5 hours...") will tell you that - the obvious lack of day/night cycles and choppy editing style makes it impossible to tell how much time has passed since the previous scene.
Another issue is the lack of characters. The 3rd astronaut spends the entire movie orbiting above them, and thus is seen very rarely and never interacts with them except over a radio. So it's just these two guys, who are hard to tell apart when they're suited up and don't really have much of a conflict until the 3rd act. With so much of the sound off-sync by design, I often spent a scene wondering who was filming, and that sort of thing kept me from ever getting engaged with the narrative the way I could with say, Blair Witch Project, where if I see Mike and Heather walking along I know Josh is the one shooting. The constant changing of stock type (and excessive film damage) doesn't help much either - and sometimes the camera must just be floating around the ship because you see both of the guys in the shot!
But I'm just repeating myself - if you want more about the movie you can go back and read my original review. I did enjoy it slightly more this time around, but not nearly enough to say "I was wrong, this is actually pretty good." I still spent most of my time watching it either bored or confused, but at least this time I could pause it for a while.
However, I wasn't expecting to have a 180 on the film - I was most curious about the deleted scenes, alternate endings, and audio commentary that the Blu-ray disc provided (along with a standard def AND digital copy of the movie! I can now watch Apollo 18 literally anywhere! I might put it on my iPod just for the hell of it). As expected, many of the deleted scenes would have helped the film - it wouldn't be a real Dimension movie unless they cut out the sort of brief character bits and plot clarification scenes that would help an audience actually give a shit about what was happening on screen. Some of the scenes are just filler or earlier versions of what ultimately was reshot (the original Cosmonaut stuff was superior to the final version, unsurprisingly), but overall there's enough to suggest that this could have been a B- movie at one point, instead of the low C (if I'm being generous) it gets now.
The alternate endings that are separated from the deleted scenes are just four versions of the same scene of one of our heroes dying, some of which ended up being used in different context in the final cut. All of it (I think?) would have been tied with another alternate ending that is included with the deleted scenes section (?), in which (SPOILER!) the orbiting astronaut* survives and goes back to tell his story, which would also explain how the damn film got back to Earth in the first place. Can't say if it was BETTER (other than the plot hole it creates I kind of like the colliding shuttle/everybody dies sequence), but it's interesting to note that this could have been the rare found footage movie where one of the main characters survives.
The commentary isn't as eye-opening as the deleted footage, unfortunately. As it was recorded two weeks before the movie's release, director Gonzalo López-Gallego (who helmed the much more exciting King of the Hill) and editor Patrick Lussier are still very much in promotional/excitement mode, something they actually address near the end of the track when they wonder if they should have waited until some time has past. They also point out some of the problems that the setting imposed on them, such as the fact that there was no scale in any of the shots (which is why I never realized that some of the "moonsters" were indeed bigger than a couple inches; it's a little more obvious now), and discuss an unseen ending where a giant moonster appears behind the surviving astronaut, but otherwise it's mostly the two men discussing how much better the movie is compared to the first cut, praising the FX/sound/camera guys and actors, etc. It's not a bad track by any means, but I was hoping they would go into the reshoots/re-edits a bit more, especially since the excised footage lacks any commentary itself ("We cut this scene because..."). They also don't bother to note that the movie has a whopping ten minute end credits roll, which is ridiculous even when The Asylum does it.
Oh well. You can't say I haven't tried to give this movie another shot, and I really do wish I could have enjoyed it more, as I'm a fan of the found footage genre and would rather see more "experiments" instead of ghost-based entries. If you DO like the film, then this disc should fully satisfy you - it boasts a pretty great transfer and some really nice surround effects in addition to the supplements (where's the trailer though?) and bonus copies. But alas, it's ultimately yet another Dimension movie where the Weinsteins' obvious meddling creates an experience that leaves the viewer constantly wondering what could have been.
What say you?
Film score: 4/10
AV score: 8/10
Extras score: 7/10 (docked a point for the lack of commentary on the deleted scenes)
Disc score: 5/10
*I have a soft spot for the poor bastards that have to fly around instead of walking on the moon like their buddies, because everyone knows the names of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, but fewer know Michael COLLINS, the module pilot of the Apollo 11 mission. We're possibly related!