'Apollo 18' fails to launch with critics and audiences
If “Apollo 18” really did expose a vast government conspiracy over the Labor Day weekend, most of the country skipped it in favor of a last-chance tan or a showing of “The Help.” And the moviegoers who did see the faux documentary about a secret NASA mission seemed to wish they could rocket themselves into another theater.
“Apollo 18” opened third at the box office, taking in an estimated $10.7 million behind the civil rights-era drama “The Help” and the Nazi-hunting thriller “The Debt” and earning a CinemaScore rating of D from the mainly young, male audiences who saw it.
The Weinstein Co.’s Dimension Films division had sold “Apollo 18” as edited from 84 hours of “found footage” of a secret NASA mission to the moon in 1972. The coy marketing campaign relied on grainy trailers purporting to depict a government conspiracy and mock internal NASA memos released via the viral website LunarTruth.org.
The sci-fi/horror film actually came to theaters from a script by newcomer Brian Miller, directed by Spanish filmmaker Gonzalo López-Gallego and produced by Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov. The movie's three astronauts are played by TV actors Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen and Ryan Robbins.
Among top critics on Rotten Tomatoes — who were not permitted to screen the movie in advance — the film has a dismal 0% fresh rating. Mark Olsen noted in the Los Angeles Times that “Apollo 18” “takes a startlingly long time to rev up … why would anyone putting together ‘discovered footage’ take so long to get to the good stuff?” while the New York Times’ Mike Hale said the movie “accomplishes something the world wasn’t really crying out for: it re-creates the tedium of watching the later Apollo missions.”
Our reporting last week that the marketing strategy irked NASA for conflating fact and fiction drew a lot of feedback from readers — including a physics teaching assistant at the Georgia Institute of Technology who e-mailed to point out that the trailer’s shaky camera work defied the laws of physics —and pickup from blogs, such as NasaWatch.com, where a healthy debate unfolded in the comments section about precisely how the agency could have hidden the launch of the Saturn V rocket, which measures longer than a football field.
One of the film’s few positive reviews came from NasaWatch’s editor, Keith Cowing, who includes in his review an interview with the film’s technical advisor, Screen Actors Guild member and former NASA Johnson Space Center director Gerry Griffin. "Lighten up" Griffin said in the interview. "This is a work of fiction. Where did we [NASA] start to get so serious?”
Photo: Image from "Apollo 18'." Credit: Dimension Films