Apollo 18, a movie hybrid of horror and science fiction is stirring up a lot of interest. Your intrepid reporter decided to see what the fuss was about. Here is a brief review and my thoughts on the movie’s accuracy.
Well, I splashed out the price of a movie ticket and went to see Apollo 18 in a semi-deserted cinema last night. Briefly (and spoiler free), it’s not a great movie but it’s not terrible and I liked it. It’s certainly a worthy Apollo movie. The actors do a good job (Warren Christie who plays LMP Ben Anderson was born in Belfast of all places) , it looks fine and although the notion of a secret Apollo mission is completely implausible, the script is aware of this and at least tries to cover up some of the holes enough for me to suspend my disbelief. Thankfully it has none of the “torture porn” feel that make so many recent horror movies unwatchable to me (there is some modest body horror if you’re squeamish) and there are some genuinely unsettling scenes. Just imagine waking up in your Lunar Module, parked on the utterly dead Moon, you look out the window and you see the flag you planted the previous day is gone! I don’t think I’d be very calm after that!
On the negative side, it is a 45 minute story stretched out to twice that length; there are also scenes very similar to other “found footage” movies, notably the Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. There is a bit too much wobbly camera stuff and there is one massive gaping hole in the plot.
In the rest of this article I’ll discuss some of the interesting technical stuff in the movie with spoilers so if you haven’t seen this movie you may want to stop reading here.
The Project Apollo technology, the Lunar Module exterior and interior and spacesuits is very well depicted; this is especially impressive when you consider the film’s tiny budget. The Soviet LK lander looks pretty authentic too (maybe the vast army of Russian special effect technicians helped). However the Lunar Rover Vehicle looks too small and it seems a bit simplified from the real design. It is pleasing that the film makers at least tried hard for an authentic look.
There is no way you could pass of a Saturn 5 lunar launch as an unmanned satellite launch. Thousands of space buffs would point out the Apollo spacecraft complete with Launch Escape System in the days taken to transport the rocket to the pad and prepare it for flight. They would also note that the blast off was during a lunar launch window. Around the world amateur astronomers and radio enthusiasts would be aware there was a crew on its way to the Moon. Based on later developments in the story, I think you have to assume that the Soviets were actively colluding with the DoD mission planners (there is no way that the Soviets could have disguised a N1/LK lunar mission, as a “routine satellite launch” from Western intelligence agencies). The idea of siting surveillance gear to observe the USSR on the Moon sounds, and is, daft but it was genuinely considered a worthwhile goal by some in the Pentagon in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Rather than some boxes of electronics, this would have needed a major military establishment on our satellite, and this was indeed planed (see Project Lunex and Project Horizon) but of course never happened.
An Apollo landing at the Moon’s South Pole is impossible. There were many factors governing where and when an mission could land and more importantly still there was insufficient propellant to put the combined CSM and LM into orbits significantly inclined to the Moon’s equator. Only landing sites between 45° E and 45° W longitude were accessible.
What about the monsters? Well I’m no biologist but the notion of organisms that not only can scuttle around in both the extreme cold and vacuum of the Moon and in the human environments of spacecraft and spacesuits but also successfully parasitise and prey on humans seems very unlikely. (If they evolved naturally that is, perhaps something else designed them…gosh I think I feel a sequel coming on…) Any biologists want to comment?
As for the disappearing Moon rocks, yes, that is absolutely true. NASA was not obliged to track those given away and many have been lost and stolen over the past forty years. Investigator JR Gutheinz has written about his personal search for some of these samples. I wonder if he has seen Apollo 18!
Oh, and how did the crew’s film get home?