Making the Grades
Conspiracy theories should make audiences a little unsettled. Heroic sacrifices should leave people feeling inspired. Historic narratives should enlighten viewers. But unfortunately a lot of things that should have happened in Apollo 18 didn’t.
Rather moviegoers get nearly 90 minutes of grainy, handheld camera footage spliced together in a documentary-style sci-fi thriller. And even though filmmakers market the snippets as recently uncovered information, which NASA denies, the clips quickly become as tiresome as watching your neighbors’ home videos of their metal detecting expeditions.
During a 1974 beer-guzzling backyard barbecue, a trio of experienced astronauts gets a secure call informing them about a secret mission to the moon. Funded by the US Department of Defense, the classified flight will have Ben Anderson (Warren Christie) and Captain Walker (Lloyd Owen) set up a series of spy cameras on the moon’s surface while John Grey maintains a lunar orbit until they are ready for pick up.
All too soon we know something is about to go wrong. Why else would this footage have been kept from public knowledge for decades? Inanimate objects move on their own. Power fluxes cause the capsule’s lights to dim and flicker. The cameras go fuzzy and stall. Tempers flare. And the soundtrack becomes increasingly intense with the sound of a racing heartbeat.
However, the build up is all for not. There are no unexpected, jump-in-your-seat moments or even mildly terrifying encounters. Instead audiences who can endure the shaky camera work are left to ponder the dubious reality of this "found footage".
Considering the weight restrictions a regular airline puts on their passengers’ luggage, it seems implausible that NASA would send up enough film for astronauts to document their every movement. Yet canister upon canister of unexposed film and blank tapes are readily available for the space travelers to pop into the cameras and handheld video recorders.
But even if the Apollo 18 mission was loaded with enough recording equipment to shoot an entire Hollywood blockbuster, how did it get back to Earth? I hate to give away the ending but let me just say there is a humongous plot hole that even diehard conspiracy theorists will have a hard time explaining—unless of course the 1970s drive-thru film developer Fotomat had intergalactic franchises and incredible delivery service.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Apollo 18.
How do astronauts deal with limited space and feeling of isolation? Why is communication with the space station and the orbiting rocket so important? How does Ben feel when he believes they are being abandoned? Why does he think of his family?
What accounts for the popularity of this type of storytelling that involves documentary-style footage? Why are conspiracy theories often associated with the space or other government programs?
How do inaccuracies or plot holes distract from a film?