Apollo 18 Movie Review — Unrealistic Realism


Lloyd Owen as Commander Nate Walker in Apollo 18. Photo credit: Dimension Films

There is a note towards the end of the credits for “Apollo 18″ that watches were provided by the Swatch Group.

Which, of course, is just wrong. Everyone knows the official watch of the moon landings was the Omega Speedmaster.

And given the level of attention to detail in “Apollo 18,” it’s a little surprising they would use Swatch. Maybe they were just for the Earthbound scenes or something; I can’t rule it out.

“Apollo 18″ is the most realistic unrealistic space movie I’ve seen; or possibly the most unrealistic realistic space movie, I’m not sure. I was impressed with the level of detail, but distracted to the point of it taking away from the movie by the whole “found footage” approach.

Basically, there are two types of people who will watch this movie.

There are those who will actually believe it is, or could be, real. For those people, the incredible level of detail makes it easier to buy the lie. However, those people are idiots, and we shall speak no more of them.

The other type of viewer is the people who will watch it understanding that it’s fiction. And for those, the approach is a mixed bag.

For people like me, the level of detail is entertaining. The moviemakers were advised by Gerry Griffin, who would have been the flight controller for the actual Apollo 18, had it flown, and in a lot of ways, they get it right. During descent, there’s a line — “You’re go on the 1201″ — that’s just a little present for the space nerds in the audience.

However, for the space nerds in the audience, the “found footage” approach asks you to buy into some things that are just too hard to swallow. Set the movie in a fictional universe in which this happened, and, OK, fine. Ask me to believe that someone no one noticed the launch of a Saturn V in 1974, and you’ve just taken me out of the movie — my mind is being filled with all the reasons why that’s unbelievable. (They were keeping this mission so secret that the crewmembers couldn’t even tell their families they were flying, and yet NASA went ahead and contracted out for mission patches? Really?) And that’s just the obvious stuff. The movie protects itself a little in that you can’t really criticize the “found footage” approach without major spoilers.

All of which is a shame. Because it’s an entertaining movie, and very well made — the best cinematic version of Apollo on screen since “Apollo 13.” It takes some unrealistic flights of fancy, but even those are done in a cool “what if” sort of way — if they had just settled for taking a “what if” sort of approach.

5 Responses

  1. Apparently Swatch owns Omega, so that end credit makes sense.

  2. Well, that’s embarrassing. I should have done some research before posting. Thanks for pointing that out.

  3. Very interesting review man. Basically what I was looking for as far as an answer goes.

    …are you sure we can’t speak more of the idiots?

  4. Good to know…and what is the 1201 “gift to space nerds?” I ask, because I am not one. :-)

  5. The actual Apollo 11 mission had a bit of drama with a “1201″ alarm, and almost had to abort the mission right before touching down on the moon. It turned out to be something they could ignore, basically, and thankfully one of the flight directors had just encountered it in a simulation — if not, they might have had to have aborted in the time it would have taken to figure out that they didn’t need to, but as it was, they were told they were Go. The Apollo 18 movie included the same failure and response as sort of a throwaway nod to the people that would catch it.

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