Even at a brisk 87 minutes, 'Apollo 18' feels long. It's actually a bit of a chore to see through to the end. Serving as his introduction to English-speaking audiences, Gonzalo López-Gallego's sci-fi thriller comes with an intriguing concept that mixes the found-footage subgenre with a revisionist conspiracy theory. The movie opens in similar fashion to others of the same ilk, blurring the line between fact and fiction, à la 'Blair Witch' or 'Paranormal Activity.' Arriving several years too late, however, the attempt feels blasé at this point and only succeeds at making viewers roll their eyes at seeing filmmakers go that extra mile for nothing.
In real life, the Apollo Moon-landing program ended with mission 17 due to federal budget cuts. But López-Gallego wants us to believe a more sinister motive — one involving an unknown alien presence that's ridiculously laughable once we get a good look at whatever it is. From a screenplay by Brian Miller and Cory Goodman, the movie does reasonably well building up suspense for three-quarters of its runtime. Filmmakers, for the most part, stick to that reliable adage of "Less is more," constantly keeping us guessing as to whether or not we actually saw something. Random, explained and ultimately creepy noises generate a chill in the air, and it grows progressively worst as a strange mystery unfolds.
Watching a pair of astronauts (Warren Christie and Lloyd Owen) working in very close quarters while a third remains in orbit (Ryan Robbins) offers a surprisingly good amount of tension. López-Gallego makes excellent use of the off-kilter camera angles and audience's knowledge of the moon being a vast, lifeless landscape. One of the hairier moments involves a simple walk through the darkness of a crater when a sudden pulse vibrates the rocks on the ground, forcing an astronaut to run for his life. Unfortunately, the film is unable to maintain the terror when discovering its cause, immediately thinking it's a stupid reason to end one of humanity's most accomplished endeavors.
Though made on a very small budget, the production value of 'Apollo 18' is ultimately its most impressive aspect. Next to the intentional photography, which is made to look like 16mm film with dirt, scratches and all, giving it a slight feel of authenticity, the set design is rather astounding and remarkably detailed. Actors appear to actually float in zero gravity while orbiting the moon inside a Command/Service Module. They also really seem to be walking on the moon's surface with a genuine Lunar Module behind them and ride around on a real lunar rover. It's this very characteristic which feels as if going that extra mile for a movie that doesn't completely satisfy in the end.
More time will probably be spent wondering how the filmmakers got so many neat toys to play with and how they were able to pull this off so cheaply. Some consultant from the scientific community must have been on hand, I'm sure. What exactly the moon creatures are, we really don't care since the production design steals much of our interest. The same goes for the makers of 'Apollo 18' as it would appear. Although López-Gallego does decently well developing a few scary moments, his attention clearly moves towards generating authenticity than at creating a believable monster, or monsters as the case may be. In the end, it's another dull entry in the found-footage genre, and only a few are likely to find this footage remotely interesting.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Anchor Bay Entertainment brings 'Apollo 18' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a digital copy coded that can be used via the Starz Media website. The movie and special features are contained on a Region A locked, BD25 disc and housed inside the standard blue keepcase. At startup, viewers can skip a series of previews and then greeted by the normal main menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
Landing with heavily-stylized photography, replicating the look of aged and damaged film elements, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode of 'Apollo 18' appears faithful to its theatrical showing. Shot with a combination of 16mm film and HD video that alternates between 1.33:1 and 1.85:1 aspect ratios, the transfer is spotless, free of any visible artifacts aside from anything deliberate, such as scratches, dirt and a bit of noise.
Contrast is generally flat and muted, but serviceable as the video shows strong resolution and excellent visibility of background info, even in the murkier portions of the frame. Blacks are some of the inkiest and intensely dark seen on home video, providing shadows with a dismally threatening appeal. The color palette is severely drained, making the movie almost look as if shot in black-and-white. The image is very nicely detailed and distinct, considering the intentional cinematography and exposing great texture in nearly every scene. The high-def transfer arrives with a very specific style that doesn't hinder the rest of the picture, but actually enhances the movie's attempt of seeming genuine.
While 'Apollo 18' won't make walls rattle or immerse viewers in endless noise, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack of the horror flick is still a winner, providing the movie with a spooky sense of space and presence.
The dead air in the rear speakers is surprisingly noticeable, generating a feeling of vast emptiness all around. Discrete effects are deliberately used to break the silence and show excellent directionality which creates an eerie atmosphere at certain moments of the movie. The lossless mix also comes with a widespread soundstage that's welcoming and delivers a convincing ambience that's engaging. The fronts don't display much range in the frequencies, but loud segments intended to scare listeners are sharply rendered and clean. Bass is deep and low-pitched, used only when required for adding to the scares. Most impressive is the center channel, offering precise, lucid vocalization that makes actors almost seem like they're in the room with viewers, making this high-rez track far-better than initially expected.
The Blu-ray arrives with the same set of bonus features as the DVD.
Serving the director's introduction to English-speaking audiences, Spanish filmmaker Gonzalo López-Gallego's 'Apollo 18' is essentially an intriguing attempt at history revisionism in the vein of the found-footage horror subgenre. While three-quarters of the movie makes for a decent spook-fest, the movie fails at offering a satisfying conclusion but makes a better impression on the production and visual design. The Blu-ray features great-looking video that's true to the filmmakers' intentions and an equally strong audio presentation. Supplements are nothing special but fans will likely enjoy it more than others. The overall package, however, will work best as a rental.