Dear Makers of "Apollo 18:: Your film is my guilty pleasure pick of the fall. Please don't screw it up.
I'm not expecting "Citizen Kane," here. I know your movie is about a fictitious 1974 lunar mission, where our government found out that a Soviet mission had been attacked by aliens (or something), and sent our guys up there to check into it. I know you're pulling a "Blair Witch" and pretending it's not a movie, but actual found footage. Your awesome poster shows a familiar astronaut bootprint on the surface of the moon, next to a creepy looking clawed footprint.
And that is all good. This is a genius concept for the end of summer, when we're still ready for a little guilty pleasure fun at the cinema, not quite ready for the flood of oh-so-serious Oscar contenders. But it worries me that your movie jumped around from release date to release date (hence the March date on the poster) and isn't being screened for critics. Never a good sign.
The way to make this film work? Lots of buildup. Don't show the monster too soon. Give us lots of "What was that?" and "Uh-oh, we found a dead cosmonaut" and "This is not the mission we thought we were on." Create astronauts who aren't stock characters but instead seem kind of like us, hard-working, generally decent, struggling to comprehend how what they thought was a cut-and-dried scientific mission has turned into a nightmare.Story: Scariest films are those that could really happen
The way to make this film fail? Cliched dialogue. Characters we don't care about. Showing the alien menace right away. Stupid decisions by supposedly smart men: "Hey, let's split up!"
There's something really chilling about the moon, its dead stillness, its barren appearance. It makes your characters vulnerable in a way they never would be on Earth. They need those clumsy suits they're wearing, and they need them to stay unripped and their helmets to stay uncracked. And should they get in trouble or have something go wrong with their spacecraft, they're outta luck. Not like they can call a cab to get home.Story: Lights, camera, awful! Movies we hate the most
I'm willing to give the "Apollo 18" filmmakers the benefit of the doubt here, at least until the reviews start rolling out. Clawmarks on the moon, that's a good start. But if that's all ya got, that's not a movie, it's a poster.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is TODAY.com's movies editor.
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