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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Cinema in Focus

Cinema in Focus: ‘Apollo 18’ Takes One Small Step Into Horror Story Territory

The film plays off our fear of risk and how this risk-aversion can hinder our future

By Hal Conklin and Denny Wayman |

2 Stars — Weak

Throughout the last half of the 20th century, nothing captured the attention of the world more than man’s first step onto the moon. What seemed unimaginable in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy set the goal of landing on the moon within a decade became reality when the world held its breath on July 31, 1969, as astronaut Neil Armstrong took that first step onto the lunar surface.

Armstrong’s team traveled the 239,000 miles to the moon in the small lunar module Apollo 11. Six more trips to the moon occurred over the next 3½ years, ending with Apollo 17 on Dec. 19, 1972.

Throughout that period, we witnessed the near collapse of Apollo 13 and the fascinating travels on the lunar surface of fellow astronauts who took along their own version of the automobile known as the lunar rover. These original space heroes earned a place in history that is unrivaled and, 40 years later, the idea of going back to the moon seems as distant a possibility as it was in 1961.

In July 1975, the final Apollo team went into space to dock with the Soviet Soyuz space capsule in a series of joint space scientific experiments. But was this what really happened?

Filmed as a psuedo-documentary and based on declassified films from the Defense Department, Apollo 18 takes us on a much different journey that suggests another reason we have never gone back to the moon. Part history lesson and part horror story, we are led to believe that we weren’t the only creatures that walked the surface of the lunar landscape.

Unlike Apollo 13, which tells a true and gripping story of man’s ability to survive in the hostile environment of space, Apollo 18 gives us a cheap Saturday matinee version. This film is more in the genre of an old Flash Gordon black-and-white serial, filled with more laughable scenes than ones that will scare you. Although this film is rated PG-13, it still isn’t appropriate for younger viewers.

Assuming you can suspend disbelief long enough to see this as purely a fictional adventure, the lack of any relationship between the story and real history leaves you feeling like you’re watching a high-school student’s film project. Apollo 18 is not a captivating space adventure true horror story, or history lesson.

What captivates us about space exploration is what it teaches us about our universe, about ourselves, and about the immeasurable power and majesty of something greater than ourselves. Whether it is going to the moon or exploring galaxies with the Hubble Telescope, what we have learned from our space exploration and satellite technology has both expanded as well as shrunk our world. In 1961, China was as far away from America in our minds as was the moon. Today, a thousand galaxies are studied by high school students, and we can know what is going on anywhere in China by looking at our smartphone screen.

What keeps us from going back to the moon is not our fear of the unknown or space aliens, but rather our fear of risk. If Columbus or our Apollo astronauts had based their explorations on removing all risks, they never would have discovered the New World or gone to the moon.


» As we remove from our children’s playgrounds the joyful but risky merry-go-round and teeter-totters, we also remove from our society anything that could become litigious. What do youCinema In Focus logo think will happen to us if we don’t encourage reasonable risk in personal and public life?

» In the ancient maps where the navigators feared uncharted waters, the words “there be dragons” were written. For generations this kept sailors from circumnavigating the world. What do you think our fears are keeping us from accomplishing today?

» When the first humans stepped onto the moon, it was seen as a giant first step into space. However, we’ve stopped that journey into space and are arguably further from space travel than we were 40 years ago. Do you believe we should use our resources to focus once more on exploring space?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit

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