Friday, November 26, 2010

"Houston, we've had an encounter..." My thoughts on space exploration and a speculative preview of Apollo 18

I'm a huge nerd. Obviously, because I love science fiction and think that science is cool overall. However, if there is one area of both science and science fiction that I find makes me both excited and somewhat envious it has to be space exploration.

One of my favorite films (though not a science fiction film in the slightest) is Ron Howard's telling of the infamous "successful failure" mission to the moon: Apollo 13. Every time I watch this film I am both envious and saddened by the fact that back when the NASA Apollo program was a part of every American's life, these people had no idea how absolutely fantastic they were. The men and women who made these missions to the moon a reality were and in some cases still are the best this country has ever produced. Not only that but back then was a time where being an American wasn't something to be ashamed of (and to be honest I don't see why it should be like that now). We could do anything, and we did. So it saddens me to see how our great nation has fallen in recent years. No one is looking to go to the moon anymore. Sure some private companies are looking into ways of doing this but it has about as much heart and soul put into it as another Michael Bay film.
Now I could go on all day about how I think that another moon program could effectively bring the nation out of the rut it's been in but I wont, partly because I'm too lazy to actually calculate the numbers for what a new mission to the moon would cost and if it would actually do what I think it would do. Needless to say, I think that if we did plan on going back to the moon there would be alot of new jobs for Americans. I don't know how much a NASA janitor was paid back in the 60's and 70's but I'm sure it wasn't the same amount a school janitor makes.

But this little window into my mind brings us to the actual subject of the day: the new Apollo 18 film.

Let's start off by looking at the new poster for the film.
Now it might not look like much. We see an astronaut's boot print on the moon (a classic image) but what is this next to it? An alien footprint? Already I am interested because this image in of itself is down right creepy.
The tag line on the poster is creepy as well "There is a reason we've never gone back to the moon" Creepy when added to this poster, yet I can't help but think "Yeah the reason was because the government needed the money to dig a deeper hole for itself." But this poster is definitely creepy looking at first glance, but what about a closer look??? On the edges we see what looks like government symbols, notes, and numbering. Then the image of the lunar surface with the footprints seems to be distorted as well.
It is this distortion that brings us to my first sign of worry for this film. What poster does this poster resemble? The poster for Paranormal Activity 2.

Now after doing some research for Apollo 18 I've learned that it is using the popular found footage format that is used in Paranormal Activity. That is, it's all being recorded on some lousy video camera. But here is how I think Apollo 18 can make this very gimmicky filming technique into something very original and unique: Think of the video broadcasts that the Apollo missions made back in the 60's and 70's. Or, if you don't remember those, think of the one from the film Apollo 13 where Tom Hanks shows the viewers the inside of the command and lunar module. Now mix that with some more footage of the crew traveling to the moon (where the crucial connection the audience forms to the astronauts is made) and then throw in some lunar landing footage and then some creepy alien goodness. I don't know what the aliens are going to look like in this movie, but they obviously aren't going to look like ET or Starman. I'm thinking something that fits that creepy footprint in the poster. I also don't know what the story of the mission is going to be about either (though obviously it was hidden from the public who all believe it was supposedly cancelled). So what does that mean? Did the Apollo 18 mission in the film have some dark secret prior to the launch? If so, how the heck did they manage to get the astronauts up there without anyone noticing? Remember the only viable method was to shoot them up in a large and loud rocket, so how can the movie explain these very large gaps in logic? Sure, by the time Apollo 13 launched the public was yawning at the thought of another trip to the moon, but that doesn't mean you can cover up an actual launch. Unless it was done in secret, and the only reasoning behind that was that in this film Apollo 18 had a dark ulterior motive. Were they trying to build a giant "laser" on the moon? A moon base?
I can't correctly guess on how the heck the writers are going to explain logically how a mission to the moon was kept secret. But I hope it's clever.

Then, of course, we have the characters. Who are our protagonists who we will journey to the moon with? In reality, the members of the Apollo 18 mission were going to be: Richard F. Gordon Jr. (Commander), Vance D. Brand (Command Module Pilot), and Harrison Schmitt (Lunar Module Pilot). All of whom were Apollo 15's backup crew. So are these going to be our protagonists for this film? Or are the writers going to have a secret crew be set up? After all, this mission was a secret. Of course, if there are going to be deaths in this movie, then the writers would probably go for a secret crew as all of the men on the list for Apollo 18 obviously are still alive (in fact Harrison Schmitt was one of the last men to set foot on the moon on Apollo 17). That would be the logical choice in my opinion.

So what about the story? Since no information about the plot has come out we are left to speculate once again. Is it going to go down the traditional and very boring movements of great alien encounter films of the past like Alien? Or is it going to bring in a new twist on the genre? I hope for the latter but expect nothing but the former. My thoughts of what this movie WILL be are: Act 1. The film introduces us to the secret crew on a secret mission to the moon where we barely get to know who these men are and why we should care about them. They reach the moon by the end of act 1. Act 2 shows our astronauts landing on the moon and almost instantly something goes wrong. It could be a mechanical malfunction, or the aliens instantly attack, but either case, the two men on the moon are essentially stranded unless they can fix their ride before the aliens eat them. The rest of act two probably will bring in some hokey dialogue and cliche moments as the two men on the moon argue with the man left in orbit in the command module on what they should do next. One of the men on the moon dies or is taken over by the alien which sets up for a somewhat suspenseful yet predictable Act 3. Act 3 has the men finally fix the lunar module and quickly escape the moon of doom. Everything seems fine when, while on their return trip back to earth, they realize one of their own is an alien. It is here that the climax of the film occurs with all of the astronauts dying or being taken over by aliens as they prepare for reentry. Then, after the rescue team recovers them they are quickly shipped off to Area 51 leaving the audience with a chilling message around the lines of: "The government never spoke of the three astronauts ever again." Or, "Sadly, the new team of astronauts attempting to make a moon base in the future never saw this video." for an inevitable sequel set up.

However, here is how I HOPE the movie will be like.
Act 1 introduces us to the astronauts right after the launch. We get to know each and every one of them, making us care for them and seeing how they work as a team. We also have an explanation as to why no one knows about this mission, be it that they already know that alien life exists on the moon or some other creative reason. We see segments of the astronaut's four day mission to the moon, continually showing the humanity of these men and why we should care.
Act 2 has our astronauts landing on the moon. Nothing goes wrong because everyone expects something to go wrong by the time act 2 comes along. The astronauts on the moon explore the surface of the moon (either for more moon rocks or for actual evidence of extraterrestrial life). Every now and then, the camera will see something off in the distance, we don't know what, but it's obviously something watching our intrepid explorers. The astronauts on the lunar surface spend a couple of days on the surface, and on occasion something strange happens while they rest in the Lunar module. Up in orbit, the command module pilot feels helpless as his shipmates struggle with the strange encounter taking place on the surface. There can even be a segment where we see nothing taking place on the moon but can hear it happening via radio transmissions on the command module as we watch our helpless CSM pilot listen to his friends' terror.
Then something bad happens. One of the astronauts is seriously wounded and it forces them to leave the moon early and attempt an emergency docking with the CSM so they can get home as soon as possible to save their wounded friend. However, something comes back with them. This is where Act 3 starts.
Act 3 takes place during the time the astronauts are trying to get home. However, they soon learn that something has come back with them and they are forced to lock themselves in one section of the spacecraft, probably the lunar module as then it provides tension for when it becomes time for them to reenter the atmosphere. The astronauts struggle with finding a way to kill the creature inside their only way home. They contemplate on forcing the ship into a deadly angle with the atmosphere causing the ship to burn up, sacrificing themselves but saving the earth. Then it becomes time for them to make a decision, resulting in a climactic ending that should surprise the audience. Then, the closing of the film, be it a good or bad ending, ends with a chilling message.

I know it's not much to go on. To be honest, I should've just went with: "I hope this movie can be original in it's storytelling and have characters we care about."
However, I'm sure that it will go with the other direction, ending up with a disappointing film.

However, I am hopeful. As Timur Bekmambetov, the man behind such awesome films like Night Watch and Wanted is slated to be the producer. The director, sadly, is someone I don't know. However, he sounds like he has directed films before, just foreign films. Let's hope his first English-speaking film can impress!

In either case, 2011 sounds like a hopeful movie year.

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