Hollywood's new space race
NASA may be facing serious cutbacks, but don't tell people in Hollywood: They’re planning a trip to the moon.
Maybe several trips, even.
Multiple movie studios are scrambling to make a film set on the lunar surface. And in a manner reminiscent of the U.S.-Soviet space race of the 20th century, it's a competition rife with egos, insecurities and the belief that whoever gets there second may as well not get there at all.
The Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov (“Wanted”) is producing a movie titled “Apollo 18” that Harvey and Bob Weinstein this month made a deal to finance and distribute. The movie -- which will employ supposedly found-footage in the manner of “Paranormal Activity” -- plays off conspiracy theories that the scrapped mission of the title actually reached the moon after all, and that the astronauts arrived on Earth's nearest neighbor to find a hostile alien awaiting them.
"When we search for other life, the first place we look is the moon," said Bob Weinstein in an interview. "There's a definite allure there. And then you get to the Apollo mission and all the conspiracy theories about it, and it's fascinating."
A second planned film, “Dark Moon,” is also a found-footage thriller set on Earth’s largest satellite. But after being scrapped by its studio, Warner Bros., in the wake of the “Apollo” news, the genre production company Dark Castle -- whose senior executive, Andrew Rona, once worked for the Weinsteins -- acquired the project. Rona may need to push it out quickly, though: The two films are believed to be too similar to co-exist in theaters.
Meanwhile, the director Doug Liman (“Mr. & Mrs. Smith”) has long been working on his own movie about lunar colonization. Although the project has been in development for several years, Liman said recently he’d still like to make it, and one person familiar with the film said that line producers had just been hired, suggesting that a launch may not be far off.
Like any good space race, there's plenty of misdirection and secrecy in Hollywood's rush to explore the stars. Bob Weinstein said that the plan is to have their movie in theaters by March. "We love that date, and come hell or high water, we'll have the movie then," he said, also outlining a strategy that included a trailer in December and a possible Super Bowl ad.
But with shooting yet to begin and a director (the up-and-comer Gonzalo Gallego Lopez, who joins writer Cory Goodman, known for the upcoming vampire movie "Priest,") just hired, competitors believe that the March date is simply a matter of moguls, well, planting a flag.
Moon movies have in recent years been seen as too expensive for cost-conscious studios (although one of the biggest hits in history, “Avatar,” was of course set on a distant planet). The most recent lunar film was Duncan Jones' “Moon,” a 2009 low-budget hit in which Sam Rockwell played an astronaut trying to get back to Earth.
But despite all of Hollywood’s interest in the big light in the sky, some are deciding to stay here on Earth. Shortly after news of “Apollo 18” surfaced, the director Roland Emmerich took a low-budget outer-space movie he was planning called “The Zone” and aborted the mission.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Buzz Aldrin on the moon in July 1969. Credit: Neil Armstrong/Associated Press