Paranormal Activity‘s rags-to-riches success story has sparked a wildfire of “found footage” pick-ups in Hollywood. However, with PA, Blair Witch Project, and The Last Exorcism already mining the scares, screenwriters and filmmakers are applying the gimmick to other genres. Norwegian thriller The Troll Hunter is a fun ride through a fantasy reality and Oren Peli, who directed the original PA, is bringing the formula into sci-fi with Area 51 next year.
In the past month, two similar sci-fi specs have been snatched up, each utilizing the “found footage” style to weave a story about a covert mission to the Moon. The first was Dark Moon, a script written by Olatunde Osunsanmi with the intention of directing. Osunsanmi has already attempted (and failed, by most accounts) this blend with The Fourth Kind, so many initial expectations are low. Warner Bros originally picked up the script, but shelved it not a month later due to competition. Joel Silver’s Dark Castle Entertainment read it, liked it, and picked it up for a Winter 2011 shoot.
The Weinstein Co. bought a rival script, written on spec by Brian Miller, titled Apollo 18 and with Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) attached to produce. But we’ll get to that later. Let’s take a look at Osunsanmi’s script, which feels as though its two separate concepts (and moods) crashed into one fantastically terrible narrative.
The first section is the natural, gradual establishment of the thin characters and their eerie situation. Post-mission debriefings by an interviewer (referred to only as “[name redacted]“) individually introduce the three-man crew of Commander Christopher Korvar, Justin Cale, and Richard Brennin. Information on their respective backgrounds is vague, since the United States government has seen that their pasts were erased when they faked each of their deaths. The trio sacrificed their lives in the pursuit of celestial answers on a mission few people on Earth are aware of: Ceres 3 — a subtle suggestion there have been others…
Right away, the script’s format is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Scattered among the pages are highlighted notes about aliens and space exploration and faux redacted letters to top government officials (like H.R. Haldeman) warning of “lunar abnormalities.”
The dialogue and descriptions are written like three first-person transcripts, meshed into chronological order, that shift points of view depending on who is recounting the story. A red notation attempts to clarify the switching viewpoints, but the style is a distracting mix of voice over and first-hand exposition. The goal, according to the script any way, is to have the audience experience the story unfold from inside each of the astronaut’s helmets (in 3D, it says). It’s bizarre and ambitious, and who knows if Osunsanmi will stick to the gimmick.
However, the initial setup betrays the story’s suspense and, ultimately, the ending, since the crew obviously made it back alive for the thorough debriefing. A perilous take-off, irregularities in orbit, a bumpy journey to the moon’s surface, and escalating “close encounters” are all discounted by the fact that the characters are safe and sound soon enough.
Otherwise, the gradual discovery of the moon’s abnormalities engages with several spooky oddities, such as inexplicable shadows, gusts of air — in space?! — and the missing Apollo 11 lander. One scene on the surface is particularly effective, if derivative, where the astronauts are unable to see or hear anything but their radar blips, warning of an approaching threat.
Then, with the characters in a full-on paranoid panic and their oxygen depleting, the script craters in on itself. With seemingly no where to go from its conspiracy origins and mysterious interstellar happenings, the third act blasts right into risible, far out territory.
Without giving away the swerve, it’s the sort of science fiction reveal that belongs in a SyFy channel original or a shoddy episode of “The Twilight Zone.” The only explanation for such a daft twist would be that someone switched the last 20 pages with a hilariously awful conclusion. If you’ve seen Skyline, imagine a more ridiculous climax. I honestly hope this movie gets made exactly as written, so we can all have a collective laugh at its expense.