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Apollo 18 (2011) ** March 10, 2012

Posted by ghostof82 in : Film General , add a comment

 Apollo 18 (Blu-ray)

The Apollo 17 mission back in 1972 was the last time man walked on the moon, the Apollo program curtailed by budget cutbacks and a rethink regards NASA’s manned spaceflight program - at least thats what everyone thought. In actual fact, the US Dept of Defence launched one more mission in December 1973, an ill-fated mission that discovered something rather dark and dangerous on the moon, which is the real reason why we have not returned in all the years since. Apollo 18 is made up of leaked footage filmed on that mission by the astronauts themselves.

Well, it’s all pretty much as preposterious as might be expected, but it turns out that while it’s daft, this film isn’t as bad as I had feared, and certainly worth a rental. It is, again, another of those ‘found footage/audience POV’ features, as was Troll Hunter which I saw not so long ago, and is littered with all the problems these films share. I was struck by a few things whilst watching Apollo 18, and the most pertinent one was this - why go with that ‘found footage’ motif at all? Okay, the film is a pretty daft propisition, but why not just tell it in the conventional way, as an ordinary film would? Of course, it’s really because of budget contraints- these movies are cheap; hell they are usually filmed on home video cameras as looking cheap and nasty is part of the deal, they don’t need finessed editing or music scores (unless you are are an Hollywood director jumping on the gimick for Cloverfield). Anybody can shoot one of these pictures, and the more ‘unprofessional-looking’ or unknown the actors onscreen are the better. The whole thing is seemingly designed for the exploitation flick, which is why these films are so prevalent now.

I was struck by this problem regards the whole ‘found footage’ thing- once past its central gimick of semi-documentary ‘authority’, it can actually hinder film-makers more than it helps. How do you maintain the internal logic while still telling a story? You cannot construct scenes or scares in the same way as a normal film, scenes have to built as if edited together from found camera footage. Yet the premise regards the capturing of all this footage risks breaking the bubble of believability and descending into silliness. The most irritating thing in these films is when a character gets a big fright and then proceeds to spend time filming the object of that fear when in a normal film the character would be bolting for safety like any normal person would. In Apollo 18 for instance, there is a major ’scare’ by what some character sees outside of his window… said character then stops and gets camera and films what he has just seen so we can see what he is reacting to. In a normal film an instant jumpcut would have shown us what he is seeing and character could then react/fight or flee. 

The thing is, in a normal film, the ‘camera eye’ which in itself is an artifical thing, it is something we accept somehow, without really being concious of it. We unconciously share the virtual ’space’ of the character and the sets, and our point of view is manipulated by edits and cuts and camera moves and angles. It’s no coincidence that one of the things that takes me out of many modern films are the ‘impossible’ camera moves done with cg virtual cameras, swooping down, say, from great heights and then racing through doorways and windows. It is clever, yes, but bloody distracting. Just like how Michael Bay insists on cameras spinning around actors or racing through sets.  In these films the mechanism of the film is part of the very subject and the eye of the camera, and the very image on the screen, is inherently an artifice. 

Dramatically, I was reminded of Apollo 13, a film with a very similar story to Apollo 18 for obvious reasons. In the former film, much of the drama and empathy the viewer felt was from watching the reactions and struggles of families and colleagues of the astronauts back on Earth. We invest ourselves in the efforts of the backroom staff attempting to ensure the astronauts can survive, and in the emotonal turmoil of the astronauts families and freinds. However we lose all that in the case of Apollo 18, because we never see the Nasa staff, or the shadowy Defense chiefs who sent them, the families who wait for them. We lose all of that drama of whats going on back home. Perhaps some of the families become suspicious, or some journalist might stumble on the secret… maybe there could be some dramatic struggle back home while the astronauts are in danger on the moon. That could be more interesting and involving than whats going on Up There. But because of the central conciet of the genre (the only images we can ’see’ are what is filmed Up There) we lose all that- and what do we gain in place of that loss? I’d say nothing at all, because the characters of the astronauts are inevitably bland and one-dimensional. We cannot invest in them. By the midway point of the film, we just don’t care about them. In a conventional film we would be manipulated by story and acting into at least feeling something

It’s therefore a soulless and disappointing film, mostly because of its adoption of the found-footage genre to tell the story, and because of which, its ultimate sin is left for last. It collapses under the weight of trying to construct its story and arc within its ‘found footage’ genre, and at the end, it pretty much destroys its central conceit- just how the hell did the ‘found footage’ get back to Earth in the first place?

Ralph McQuarrie’s Star Wars Remembered March 5, 2012

Posted by ghostof82 in : Film General , add a comment

 

The news that Ralph McQuarrie, whose pre-production paintings for Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi so fascinated and inspired me so many years ago, had passed away this past weekend really saddened me- like the passing of Frank Frazetta and Al Wiliamson and John Buscema, it seems the passing of an era, and another part of my childhood and formative years gone forever. It just goes to show the impact of his art that my sentiments are shared I am sure by countless others all over the world.

As a Star Wars nut back in the Original Trilogy days, I naturally have the portfolios of McQuarrie’s Star Wars paintings and the ‘The Art Of’ books that showcased his art- those paintings and sketches of his, and the books that featured them, were a big part of my teenage years. I remember reading The Art Of Star Wars, which had the screenplay for the film surrounded page after page with various pieces of artwork, much of it by McQuarrie. I could see the earliest pencil sketches and roughs, the vague beginnings of what would become Darth Vader or the droids or vehicles, alongside the more finished designs in colour paintings.

Many of McQuarries paintings were what George Lucas used to explain his ideas in order to sell the film to the studio execs. Looking back at them today it is remarkable how simple and direct those paintings are, how effective they are. Other artists would fine-tune the designs, the craftsmen that built them, the costume designers and fx technicians… it would be wrong, and disrespectful to many others, to simply say that McQuarrie designed the films himself. Many of McQuarries designs, particularly those for the first movie, are like an embryonic Star Wars, a fanciful, classical version of the movies we would be so familiar with. They have a beauty and a charm all their own, a glimpse of a magical galaxy far, far away that we didn’t really see on the cinema screen. Somehow more beautiful. More charming.

The number of times I have looked at his artwork over the years. Frightening. As Vader himself might say, the Force was strong with this one. 

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