'The Landing': Film Review
David and Mark Dodson's faux documentary recounts the story of a lunar mission that went disastrously wrong.
For a space mission that never actually happened, Apollo 18 certainly has gotten extensive big-screen treatment. First there was 2011's found-footage, sci-fi thriller Apollo 18 and now comes a fake documentary providing a far different account. But while this mockumentary directed and scripted by David and Mark Dodson boasts an undeniable realism that has apparently fooled many viewers at various film festivals, it essentially feels like a very clever but ultimately meaningless stunt. The Landing certainly demonstrates that reality can be easily faked (look for it to be screened at the White House), but it's not sufficiently engrossing on its own terms.
The film follows many of the typical documentary conventions, from talking head interviews to archival footage to vintage photographs to dramatic re-creations (in this case shot in black-and-white). The chief interview subject is Bo Cunningham (Don Hannah, very effective), the sole surviving member of the ill-fated mission that took place 25 years ago.
In the filmmakers' carefully crafted reality, the 1973 mission suffered a computer malfunction while returning to Earth, forcing Cunningham to take manual control. The spacecraft wound up precariously touching down in a remote desert region of China rather than the planned Pacific Ocean target. It took NASA 36 hours to locate the capsule, during which time astronauts Ed Lovett (Warren Farina) and Al Borden (Jeff McVey) died under mysterious circumstances. The story eventually takes a melodramatic turn involving a romantic triangle and the accusation that Cunningham murdered his fellow crewmembers.
The scenario, which starts promisingly but sharply devolves as the film progresses, is rendered quite convincingly. The addition of historical details involving Richard Nixon during the Watergate crisis and his chief of staff Alexander Haig provides additional verisimilitude. It's only the presence of Robert Pine (father of Chris), a familiar veteran character actor here playing a smarmy congressman who recounts his experiences heading a committee investigating the incident, that will send bells ringing in the heads of attentive viewers.
The filmmakers' technical expertise consistently impresses, particularly since the project was done on an obviously low budget. But a nagging question arises while watching it: For whom were they making it? Anyone completely unaware that the film is a faux documentary will probably be impressed by its deceptions once they learn of them, but they might also be annoyed at being taken in. On the other hand, most viewers will know in advance that the events depicted are fake, and there aren't enough thrills to justify the time investment. Although to be fair, the '60s pop song "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" has never sounded more chilling.
Ultimately, The Landing emerges as little more than a cinematic curiosity. But it's one that could prove an effective Hollywood calling card for its inventive filmmakers.
Production: Rocket 66 Entertainment, The Landing
Cast: Cindy Lou Atkins, Warren Farina, Don Hannah, Page Hannah, Arlene Hughes-Martinez, Jeff McVey, Robert Pine, Joe Santaniello, Craig Stepp
Directors/screenwriters/editors: David Dodson, Mark Dodson
Producers: David Dodson, Mark Dodson, Don Hannah
Executive producer: Don Hannah
Director of photography: Bryan Cooke
Composer: Brian S. Carr