One Giant Leap for Big Brother
by Glenn Lovell
Conspiracy theorists who believe the moon landings were a great big, fat government lie should be at least half-pleased with “Apollo 18,” which posits, yes, NASA got us to the moon but lied about why we didn’t go back.
The end of the Apollo program had less to do with government funding than “contaminated” moon rocks.
In this dandy little sci-fi entry, directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego (“Nómadas”) in the mock-doc style of “Blair Witch Project” and its spawn, the new mission takes place in 1974 and concerns eye-in-the-sky Cold War surveillance. It is, therefore, classified Top Secret and overseen by the drones at the Defense Department.
That’s right, nobody knows Cmdr. Nate Walker (Lloyd Owen) and Ben Anderson (Warren Christie) have returned to the lunar surface as John Gray (Ryan Robbins) circles above in the command capsule. It’s all hush-hush, one small step for the Pentagon, one giant leap for Big Brother, etc., etc.
Once on the surface, Nate and Ben — hardly the most compatible of astronauts — plant a flag and put the lunar rover into drive. Footprints lead to a Soviet module and the desiccated remains of a cosmonaut. Did he wig-out? Was he killed by a fellow explorer? The high-pitched transmissions and incessant chittering suggest a more insidious explanation.
By cleverly fusing stock NASA footage and a lot of jerky, hand-held video, López-Gallego comes up with a reasonable facsimile of what we blinked through at home during the first moon shot. It’s not pretty, but it is occasionally jarring and a couple of moonscapes are as eerily beautiful as those found in “2001.” What’s lacking is plot. If you’ve seen “Alien,” “Moon” and Peter Hyams’ underrated “Capricorn One,” you pretty much know the drill.
The dialogue runs from “Roger that” and “We’re coming in too fast!” to “There’s blood, a lot of blood … I don’t like this.” The best line ‒ “The flag’s gone!” ‒ is also the most politically subversive. It’s a not-so-subtle shot across the bow of American imperialism.
For all its familiarity, I liked “Apollo 18.” It’s scruffy, seat-of-the-pants filmmaking. The kind of thing you don’t see much anymore. And as a Hollywood calling card, it could do for López-Gallego what “Dark Star” did for John Carpenter.
Stick around for the end credits. They’re accompanied by, of all things, a jazzy piano rendition of “We Three Kings.”
APOLLO 18. 1/2 With Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen, Ryan Robbins. Directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego ; scripted by Brian Miller, Cory Goodman. 86 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense attack scenes, gory makeup effects)