Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin practicing on a simulated lunar mock-up, 22 April 1969. Image Source: Wiki.
I09 recently complained that a viral marketing campaign is going too far in insisting on the veracity of the upcoming American horror film, Apollo 18, directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego. This film is based on supposed 'found footage' of a hushed-up Apollo 18 mission. According to the film's producers, the public were told that Apollo 18 was cancelled. In fact, the mission took place and was a secret disaster. The I09 reporter, Meredith Woerner, says she loves a mocumentary as much as the next girl, but when Dimension Films (a division of the Weinstein Company) recently told the press that the footage is absolutely 100 per cent real, she got annoyed.
Prop as fake artifact. Apollo XVIII patch? Why is Stonehenge in the foreground? Image Source: Space Facts.
In reality, NASA has enough problems, with its Shuttle program ending, the encroachment of private companies, relying on the Russians to service the ISS, and the droves of conspiracy theorists who believe the earlier Apollo moon landings never happened. Yesterday, Boeing successfully launched its X-37B orbital spaceplane under a US Air Force contract. This film comes out in the midst of American soul-searching about how and why the glories of the 1969 moon landing and subsequent Apollo missions up to 1972 were not matched or repeated. Future manned missions are not set until the 2020s, and in the wake of budget cuts under the Obama administration, do not involve any American planned missions. This is a serious blow to American claims on supremacy in space exploration.
Prop as fake artifact. Apollo XVIII patch made for the 2005 play, Darkside. Image Source: Collect Space.
Apollo 18 was practically begging to be made under these conditions. On top of NASA's problems and America's currrent internal divisions and waves of self-doubt, think of the Millennial mentality that is willing to entertain, either with credulity or cynicism, watching this film. The film's tagline is: There's a reason why we've never gone back to the moon. We are talking about a current perspective that sees a conspiracy theory time capsule as more plausible than the real explanation for deep problems with the Space Program that have finally come fully to light. This means that there are realities about the way power is now exercised, and who is exercising it, which we do not want to face. Despite the great landings on Titan and Mars, it means that the past 30+ years of efforts were not as stellar as they could have been, due to political mismanagement, politicized scientific administration, budget problems, misplaced priorities, and no consistent commitment to a larger vision. Finally, there were Space Station dreams of lower earth orbit of the 1970s and 1980s (which I have blogged about here); these were not as breath-taking, and much more expensive to execute, than anticipated. Rather than getting to the bottom of this three-decade run of misguided performance, a generational failing if you will, there's a desire in some quarters to go back to the beginning of the period and blame the failure for the now-we-know-not-so-illustrious future on a conspiracy theory. In other words, people in authority back then, in the early 1970s, were to blame, not those who followed. This kind of thinking passes the buck to organizations, corporations and evil, now-dead-or-retired figures, rather than placing the blame where it belongs. The real blame rests not on some false and secret horror clarified by this mocumentary, but on the people who did not succeed in propelling America's Space Program to the heights it could have achieved.
Russian poster for Apollo 18. Image Source Flicks and Bits.
Caption for the image above: Part of the viral marketing for the film includes internet happenings related to the above poster seemingly for the Russian dub of Apollo 18 - but probably aimed at American audiences (see here, here and here). This happening proclaims that the footage that exposed an American cover-up was Russian and is circulating fake American and Russian government documents on the internet: "With the recent discovery of Russian film footage that suggests that America’s Apollo 18 space mission actually did occur, despite being canceled by President Nixon in the early 1970s, The Weinstein Company (TWC) announced today that it has acquired the rights to a provocative new film project, titled Apollo 18. To be directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego from a screenplay by Brian Miller, the documentary-style sci-fi thriller will be produced by Russian filmmaker Timur Behmambetov (Wanted, 9, The Darkest Hour) and Michele Wolkoff, president of development for Bekmambetov Projects, Ltd. Production has been fast-tracked to begin in December, with a wide release planned for March 4. A quintessential Cold War story, Apollo 18 casts light on the covert and undocumented lunar mission that officially “never happened.” Bekmambetov, hired by Russia to shoot a documentary about the Russian space station, recently came across footage in its space archives that bolsters the idea that an Apollo 18 mission did, in fact, take place, and reveals startling evidence of extraterrestrial life forms. This actual footage will be part of Apollo 18, a paranormal thriller that will interpolate fact and fiction."
From the I09 report:
Ironically, the sheer implausibility of this claim is the hook to get us believe that the movie is real - the found footage, and the people who are debunking the American cover-up - are supposedly Russian. Dimension Films is just the American messenger boy.A few days ago mega-producer and Dimension Films head Bob Weinstein claimed that the much-buzzed-about lunar "found footage" movie Apollo 18 film was 100% real. Is he crazy? Or does he just think we'll believe anything? [In an EW interview, he claimed:] "People intrinsically know there are secrets being held from us. Look at WikiLeaks: There are secrets that are really true to the world. It's not bogus. We didn't shoot anything, we found it. Found baby!"[To which the I09 reporter responds:] I remember quite clearly overhearing audience members vigilantly defend Blair Witch's authenticity at a first screening. Sure they were being duped, but it least the lie was plausible. I could easily be convinced that a crazy person murdered three kids on a camping trip. But you will never convince me that the tapes from a lost lunar mission were discovered by Dimension Films. Never.
Add to this, I remember reading somewhere (don't ask me where - this is Fox Mulder territory) that the original moon landing hoax claims came from Russia in an effort to discredit the American Space Program. Forty years after the Americans' clear triumph over the Russians as far as lunar exploration was concerned, we find that Cold War propaganda is alive and well. In fact, the Cold War is alive and well! Of course, no one takes this really seriously - it's just a spring space movie. But even the fun in it gives us permission to indulge the theme of secret American shame and failure.
Debunking it. This found footage supposedly covers events from late 1973, which falls within the living memories of many, many people. Yet no one recalls a rocket taking off at that time? Why would an Apollo mission be kept secret? It theoretically occured during the Nixon administration, a president who was discredited and humiliated. Therefore, it's easy to sell the idea that Nixon would have lied a bit more to the American people. Maybe the scandals of his presidency ran a little deeper. It is clearly geared toward an audience willing and predisposed to believe this. And yet - the footage, as far as I can see, is presenting film styles, images and themes that are utterly up to the minute. The visuals are digital and crisp, not grainy and flickering. Even the trailer is full of little film 'quotes.' The actors holding the cameras - straight out of Blair Witch and films like Lynch's Lost Highway. The flag wrapped around a stone outside the spacecraft is identical to the scene in Blair Witch where a cloth bundle is left outside the tent. The creepy-crawlies inside the astronaut's suit - Alien. There's no jarring sense that the footage is 'dated.' It responds seamlessly to our sensibilities right now, and many of the shock moments resemble the quiet little space thriller from a couple of years ago, Moon.
The film's producers anticipate an audience that would apparently rather believe a lie about the past than face the truths of the present and problems of the future. It is part of a Millennial willing suspension of disbelief that has been building for some years - a mental trick that equates lies with truth, and truth with lies, through a manipulation of our understanding of time.
The film was originally scheduled for US release on March 4; it is now being released on April 22.
ADDENDUM: For my later follow-up post on this film, go here.