Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Apollo 18

The trailer is indispensible to the marketing of a movie. Some are so effective they entertain more than the feature. The trailer for Apollo 18 2011 touches the pleasure points of the genre. There is premise, intrigue, excitement and horror. Further marketing (ie the one-sheet) embeds the tagline as a warning to the fans. Despite several release date changes this is a film pitched perfectly to the public. Dimension Films have a history of horror.
The Apollo 18 story is of a clandestine lunar landing in 1974. This NASA recovered footage shows why the Americans have never gone back. ‘Recovered’ being synonym for ‘found (footage)’. Apollo 18 is another addition to the POV subgenre.

The history of the found footage film1 starts with The Blair Witch Project 19992. It wasn’t the first such film but it was the first to capture public attention. A production budget of $802k (all figures adjusted for inflation) yielded a worldwide box office $331million.

By the nature of its low budgets this genre was always going to attract the independent filmmaker. The following years saw a variety of films coalesce the genre but not establish it. In 2008 Hollywood player JJ Abrams3 produced Cloverfield4 to a worldwide $178m. Paranormal Activity 2009 had a $16k budget and a $214m worldwide gross5. Found footage is the new torture porn.
(coming) soon to be found footage
Found footage films are a gimmick. The technique inserts the viewer into a point-of-view stance with the object of heightening the visceral response. It is visual sibling to the first-person-narrative of the novel but can also be described as a poor relation. The technique is restraining. To wit Alien 1979 would not be a better film if it was found footage.

In most cases the narrative reasoning for the POV technique is hackneyed. In most cases the form does not have the legs to tell a feature length film. The only exception to this is [REC] 2007. For example in the case of Cloverfield human beings do not point a camera at something that is going to kill them. Human beings run – unless they are extraordinary journalists.
The premise alone of Apollo 18 is enough to excite the superstitious amongst the conspiracy theorists. The premise is also unique in its suitability for the found footage subgenre. Every camera and angle has a legitimate reason for position and recording be it static or mobile. The problem is surveillance cameras tend to record white noise.
The budget figures haven’t been made available but some of it should have been spent on the screenplay. The script stretches out the high concept to the point of torpor. Consequently the film is full of padding. Eg one of the astronauts snores which later results in a jump scare with no significance to the story.

Worse follows; post Scream 1996 no horror film should use the cliché of the dumb big tit blonde walking up the stairs to investigate a strange noise when the front door is an option. Apollo 18 substitutes the bimbo for a burly crew cut astronaut.

Ridley Scott and HR Giger set the bar for the hostile extra-terrestrial. Other films such as John Carpenter’s The Thing 1982 and Slither 2008 created their own credibility. The underwhelming Apollo 18 reveal begs the question where the budget went. It didn’t go on production.

The conspiracy film6 is a genre of its own. The premise of Capricorn One 1978 is the opposite to that of Apollo 18. Where Capricorn One remains credible Apollo 18 is revealed as a good idea but with languid execution and a ludicrous exit. This film should have been a bigger budget with a better script. It shouldn’t have been found footage. This should have been left on the cutting room floor.

Read more Thrill Fiction: The 100 Best Horror Films #3
2 The Blair Witch Project The Numbers
3 JJ Abrams IMDb
4 Cloverfield The Numbers
5 Paranormal Activity The Numbers
6 Conspiracy films Wikipedia
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