Released by: Anchor Bay
Released on: December 27, 2011.
Director: Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego
Cast: Warren Christie, Ryan Robbins, Ali Liebert, Lloyd Owen
Year: 2011 Purchase From Amazon
Spanish born filmmaker Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego directs this, his fourth feature and his first English language effort, 2011’s Apollo 18.The film works off of the same premise as pictures like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, though the idea of relocating the whole ‘found footage’ thing into deep space sets it apart at least in terms of location.
The premise is this – the Apollo missions were ‘technically cancelled’ when Apollo 17 astronauts reported strange experiences during their stint on the moon. As far as the general public was concerned, 17 was the last one and due to budgetary issues, the program was cancelled – but the government kept at it, and in the early seventies Apollo 18 was sent to the moon on an unreported mission lead by Commander Nathan Walker (Lloyd Owen), Lieutenant Colonel John Grey (Ryan Robbins) and Captain Benjamin Anderson (Warren Christie). The astronauts start to wonder just what they’ve been sent up there to do when they discover a Russian spacecraft left abandoned on the moon, complete with a dead Cosmonaut inside. From here, it gets weirder – rock samples that have been taken inside the Apollo craft are left in one place and turn up in another, strange noises and movements occur inside the ship while the men are sleeping, and eventually their communications system and only lifeline back to Earth starts to act up on them. While John is orbiting the moon in the rocket, Nathan and Benjamin soon come to realize that there’s something else on the moon with them – though what exactly that is, they don’t know.
The film tells the story of what happened on the Apollo 18 by way of footage that was purportedly shot during the mission and then, because of its clandestine nature, locked away from the public for decades. This adds an interesting conspiracy theory element to the story that works in its favor and which, for a certain segment of the audience, will get the gears turning upstairs in regards to how much the government has really disclosed about the space program to the general public. Removing the element of food for through from the proceedings, however, one thing becomes increasingly clear as you sit through this film and that is that the picture is a very slow one. It’s deliberate, it’s calculated, and it’s quite well put together in terms of the direction, the design and the performances but it takes quite a while to get going and this is in spite of a rather involving first ten minutes or so.
As to how much you’ll enjoy the film, a lot of that will depend on your susceptibility to suspending your disbelief in terms of the found footage aspect and in terms of how much you’re into or not into the idea of something like this happening in space.
Stylistically speaking, Lopez-Gallegoh has done a very good job getting the look and feel right. If you’ve watched a lot of early NASA footage by way of documentaries like When We Left Earth you’ll certainly appreciate the aesthetic behind the way that this movie was made. Without elaborating more than necessary, they nailed it – it looks very convincing. The filmmakers also do a great job with the use of sound and sometimes with silence as well. This helps to build tension in a few key scenes and is a nice reprieve from the jump scares so common in so many modern horror films. So yes, this is a slow burn and yes this is a film that relies a little too heavily on a popular trend and the novelty of its location but as it is so successful in creating the right atmosphere and delivering solid, dependable performances from the principal cast members, it is never the less quite a decent little thriller and one which the patient viewer will probably find quite enjoyable.
The aspect ratio switches back and forth from 1.33.1 to 1.78.1 in this AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer from Anchor Bay, which is as it should be in the context of the story being told. And you’ve got to take that context into account when thinking about the transfer here, as this movie isn’t supposed to look good, it’s supposed to look like found footage shot on low grade film stock in the sixties. The transfer does a good job of replicating that, so expect heavy grain, mild print damage and color fading throughout – all of which is intentional. As far as the authoring goes, there are no problems with compression issues or noise reduction, and then end result is a surprisingly convincing one that also offers just the right amount of clarity and detail.
Audio chores are delivered by way of a strong DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix, with optional subtitles offered up in English SDH and Spanish. This isn’t an overly aggressive mix, had it gone that route it would have ruined the effect, but it is a very effective one. Channel separation is noticeable throughout, mostly at the front of the mix but occasionally in the rears when called for, while dialogue stays clean and clear. The sound effects are worked in very nicely here and add a lot to the proceedings, but the sound designers here were also smart enough to know that sometimes silence is just as creepy as screaming – so sometimes the more subdued moments are the more effective ones in this mix.
Director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego and editor Patrick Lussier provide a commentary track to start the extras off, which discusses the difficulties of trying to create period footage, editing tactics, issues that arose during the shoot, locations, sets, casting and more. It’s a good talk that leans more towards the technical side of things than some might want it to, but there’s a lot of good information here and the two hit a good stride as far as the pacing of the discussion is concerned.
From there, dig into the deleted scenes – there are quite a few, just over twenty minutes worth in fact:
Recovered Footage From The Russian Cosmonaut / Fun In The Cafeteria / Glove And Dial / Christmas Lights And Praying / Ben Sleeping / Dirty Twist / Ben And Grey Scale / Pictures Of Earth / How Many Dead Russians Are On The Moon? Version 1 – In The Trench / How Many Dead Russians Are On The Moon? Version 2 – Half Buried / Rock In Spacesuit / What’s Wrong With You? / Ben Says Goodbye And Is Chased / The White Room – John Grey Debriefed By D.O.D. / The John Grey Memorial
Some of this material is interesting to see but most of it would have just slowed down an already slow moving film and the filmmakers were wise to cut it out of the finished version. There are also four different alternate endings included here – we won’t discuss the titles here as they basically spoil them, but they’re interesting to see.
Aside from that, this is a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack so a DVD disc is also included and the packaging also includes a download code to get yourself a digital copy if you want. Animated menus and chapter stops are included on both discs. All of the extras on both the Blu-ray and the DVD are presented in standard definition.
The Final Word:
How much you get out of this movie will depend almost primarily on two things – how much you appreciate a horror movie set in space and how creeped out you tend to get by the whole found footage thing. Apollo 18 moves at a very deliberate and calculated pace and that will no doubt turn off those looking for a fast moving picture, but it’s very well made and plenty atmospheric and given the quality of the audio and video, this Blu-ray release is the right way to experience it.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!