Shark Night 3D and Apollo 18

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  We’ve heard this dire warning for decades however we continue to ignore it.  While this admonition is meant for more important and serious events like wars, economics and elections, it also applies to those who create and produce our popular entertainment.  A few weeks ago, three of the four wide release movies were sequels, remakes or reboots of previous films.  While I’m sure every effort was made to create the best movies possible, none of those films has done very well at the box office.  While neither film I’m reviewing this week is a remake or sequel, both films rely heavily on frequently used styles and plots to move their stories along rather predictable paths.  It appears no one involved with “Shark Night 3D” or “Apollo 18” has learned much from history.

Shark Night 3D

Seven friends attending Tulane University head to a lake house owned by the family of Sara (Sara Paxton).  After an unpleasant run-in with Red (Joshua Leonard) and Sara’s former boyfriend Dennis (Chris Carmack) at the bait shop, the crew jumps in Sara’s boat to ride to the island on a salt water lake where the house is located.  On their trip, Sheriff Sabin (Donal Logue) chases their boat but Sara guns the engine and refuses to stop.  Upon arriving at the island dock, it turns out this is yet another race between the old family friends.  Nick (Dustin Milligan), Blake (Chris Zylka), Maya (Alyssa Diaz) and Malik (Sinqua Walls) go water skiing.  While being towed, Malik is knocked into the water by a shark which bites his right arm off half way between the elbow and shoulder.  Not knowing how Malik was injured, Nick dives in the water to retrieve the arm and is pursued by a large shark.  Just barely making it back to shore, Nick, a med student, works to stabilize Malik.  Everyone wonders how sharks got into a landlocked lake but their primary concern is getting Malik to the hospital.  Those efforts are thwarted when their boat is disabled by a shark that rams it and damages the steering cable, causing the boat to crash.  All but one of the people on board gets off safely.  Since their cell phones don’t work on the island, the group fires a flare as a sign they need help.  When Red and Dennis show up, they reluctantly accept their offer of help; but an incident from Dennis and Sara’s past may lead to disaster.

While “Shark Night 3D” has the prerequisite sharks, they actually play a fairly minor role in the film.  While they are responsible for almost every character death, it is the humans who are front and center in the story.  Neither Man nor fish does a very good acting job.

The first problem with “Shark Night 3D” is the predictable story.  We’ve seen this fishy tale several times before in other types of horror movies.  Had the villain of the piece been Freddy, Jason, Leatherface or any other unstoppable killing machine, the story would require very little adjustment other than more of the deaths would have occurred on dry land.

The characters are also a familiar group of types we’ve seen before:  There’s the tramp, the jock, the nerd, the sweet one, the smart one, the stud and all do very little with the script that gives them very little to do.  Each character is pretty much interchangeable with another, so it doesn’t matter who gets eaten by the sharks as by the end of the film you’ll have forgotten most of the players anyway.

The film also does several things that make little sense.  For instance, the sharks can swim faster than a speed boat and a jet ski but can’t seem to catch a dog paddling around the lake.  We are told one character is too injured to be loaded in a boat and transported to a hospital but in the next scene that character is hunting for the sharks with a harpoon.  The reason for the sharks being in the water is also rather unbelievable and will make many viewers look quizzically at the screen or their date.

There is very little to recommend about “Shark Night 3D;” however, the filmmakers did get a couple of things right.  First, the 3D is actually worth paying for in this movie (not the movie itself, just the 3D).  The images are crisp and bright.  Even nighttime scenes are perfectly clear.  Various items and bits fly toward you in some scenes and they really pop off the screen.  This 3D film didn’t give me a headache like many do.  Probably because it is only about 90 minutes long.  The ending also actually produced some excitement and thrills.  That may be due to the poor quality preceding it, but still, it worked for me.

“Shark Night 3D” is rated PG-13 for violence and terror, disturbing images, sexual references, partial nudity, language and thematic material.  We see a few brief fights, a stabbing, the ragged stump of Malik’s severed arm and a woman bitten numerous times by small cookie cutter sharks.  The nudity consists of a couple of side boob views.  Foul language is widely scattered.  The “F-Bomb” is dropped only once that I recall.

“Shark Night 3D” could have been a campy bit of mindless fun with a slightly different approach.  Unfortunately, the filmmakers tried to make a serious and scary film.  All they succeeded in doing is making an un-scary bad film.

“Shark Night 3D” gets one lonely guitar out of five.

Apollo 18

Three astronauts are sent on a secret defense department mission to the moon where they will install devices they believe are monitoring the Soviet Union.  During their exploration, astronauts Benjamin Anderson (Warren Christie) and Nathan Walker (Lloyd Owen) discover footprints that are not their own.  Further investigation discovers a Soviet lunar lander and the remains of a cosmonaut at the bottom of a crater.  Interference from an unknown source blocks the astronauts from contacting another, John Grey (Ryan Robbins), orbiting the moon, and mission control in Houston.  When cameras and the American flag begin to disappear, Anderson and Walker wonder if perhaps there’s a second Soviet cosmonaut still alive on the surface.  Further odd occurrences lead them to wonder if whatever is on the moon with them isn’t human.

“Apollo 18” strikes me as a brilliant premise.  As a space geek from the Gemini era in the 1960’s, the notion of a secret manned mission to the moon two years after the last “official” trip filled me with a great deal of anticipation for this movie.  Unfortunately, the film fails to deliver on its promising foundation.

Titles at the beginning of the movie inform us that 84 hours of footage was uploaded to a website and the film was edited together from it.  From there, we see interviews with the astronauts, home movies of a cookout, then the mission.  The static cameras inside and outside the ship and the handheld cameras the astronauts use gives the movie that “You Are There” feel; but the action documented isn’t all that interesting.  While it wants to be “Paranormal Activity in Space,” it comes across more like a really bad vacation video.  The grainy look of 1970’s vintage film is produced with ease, but what is on that film is often dull.  The acting goes from appropriately stiff (during the routine mission section) to overly loud and emotional (once the weirdness begins).  The film looks very authentic as far as the technology and the spacesuits but there’s a serious shortage of authentic storytelling.  The film follows a very predictable plot, most of which is given away in the trailer, with only one mild surprise at the end.  “Apollo 18” lacks any real tension and comes up very short in scares.  It is truly a wasted effort.

“Apollo 18” is rated PG-13 for some disturbing sequences, and language.  We see the desiccated face of the Soviet cosmonaut, a rather painful looking emergency medical procedure and someone’s head exploding within a spacesuit.  The language is widely scattered.

I had high hopes for this movie.  It had an interesting look and premise that filled me with anticipation.  In its final form, “Apollo 18” left me staring blankly at the screen as the very long and slow credits rolled.  How had this gone so wrong?  Maybe it’s the Men in Black or the Commies…or aliens.  Whatever the reason, it made for a bad trip.

“Apollo 18” gets one sad, depressed guitar out of five.

Three new movies hope to make a good impression on you and your entertainment dollar.  Vote on the movie I see and review next.

Contagion—The worldwide medical community races to find a cure and control the panic when a lethal airborne virus becomes a global epidemic.

Bucky Larson:  Born to Be a Star—When a small town loser discovers that his conservative parents were once adult film stars, he heads to L.A. to pursue his destiny.

Warrior—Two estranged brothers, both forging paths as MMA fighters, find themselves on a collision course to face off in the ring.

Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently in theatres.

Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.

If you have a question or comment, send it to  Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.