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SIFF ADVANCE: The Landing - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: A
Acting: A
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: A


I mean, what else can I do? The Landing is a movie that always dupes some people, and I turned out to be one of those people. Is it really a spoiler to say that this "documentary" is completely fake? How many people actually want that experience -- the one I had, where I completely fell for it, thinking this was a pretty extraordinary story and how was it I never heard about it?

You could say that I am ridiculously gullible. I like to think of it as a reflection of my genuine love and affection for film and cinema that I never go into movies with suspicion, trying to figure out the mystery or any kind of deceptions going on. I take things at face value. That's a double-edged sword with a movie like this, which I suppose could be considered satire, to a degree. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a "mockumentary," or even a comedy.

What I would call it, in retrospect, is massively impressive. Okay, so if you know anything about the history of NASA, you know already that the Apollo 18 mission did not end with the landing diverted to the desert in China, and the question of whether the one surviving astronaut killed the other two of them out there. There actually never was an Apollo 18 mission. But, what if you don't have even a cursory knowledge of the history of NASA? The way this film is presented, it's very easy to believe.

And that's what makes it great. It feels like a thoroughly authentic, pretty-good documentary, complete with talking heads who are actually actors, but actors who were given basic bullet points for their performances but who improvised their answers. The closest to a recognizable actor in the cast is Robert Pine -- Chris Pine's dad -- as a truly moronic former Congressman made all the more believable by the existence of our current president.

The Landing has its own fascinating history. It began as a 45-minute film short, with no sound, presented as footage of the astronauts wrecked in China. This was shot and released 25 years ago, but set in 1973. The fimmakers reunited with the very same cast members to film the "interviews" made 25 years later: the documentary interviews are set that many years later, and they were filmed that many years later as well. This explains a couple of things I thought were odd when I still thought it was a legitimate documentary, most notably that the more recent footage was itself from nearly 20 years ago. Why is this movie being released now if the most recent footage in it was from 1998? Also, I found it curious that they seemed to have so much footage with actors doing re-enactments of the events in 1973. But it turns out, that was footage used for the short that had been released in 1991 -- using the same actors, now actually 25 years older. I thought the people in the re-enactment footage looked remarkably similar to the actual people! Except of course they were actors all along. Are you following this?

Within the world of the movie, the central question is whether astronaut Bo Cunningham (Bo Cunningham) killed the other two who had been on his mission. Talking heads make their own cases, presenting their own evidence, for both yes and no. I found myself thinking they were equally believable. The unfolding of events was nuts, but not too nuts for it to be believable. And how could I not say the actors are across the board excellent, if I was easily convinced they were real people?

I honestly have no idea how this movie plays to people for whom its being a fabrication is obvious from the beginning. It's got to be a radically different experience from the one I had. If not for the post-screening Q&A with co-directors David Dodson and Mark Dodson after the screening I attended, I would have come home and Googled the "real story," only to be baffled that I couldn't find anything about it -- until of course I finally figured out this movie was fiction. According to the directors, they regularly get people approaching them to say they can't figure out why they can't find any information about this story.

There's clearly a point to be made here about "fake news" and how easily people fall for it. According to the Dodsons, the timing of this film's release, in today's political climate, is entirely coincidental. You never know exactly how long a movie will take from start to finish and reaching audiences. And this one was literally 25 years in the making. There's a lot to unpack, in any case.

Either way, The Landing is an unusually absorbing film, both as a narrative story and as a supposed documentary. I really can't compliment the actors enough. One of them swears a lot, but even he comes across as just some regular guy. That's what makes it so believable, these talking heads who feel like any such person in a documentary film -- interesting people by varying degrees, but never overtly outlandish. But the editing should really be complimented as well, as this was edited down from excess footage just like any actual documentary, lending to its air of legitimacy. The stock footage, the sound recordings supposedly from the 1973 mission -- it's all very convincing.

I could give more details, of which there is a lot, about what everyone claims to have happened on this Apollo mission and in the desert of China, but I'll save that for your genuine discovery. That would be much more of a genuine spoiler than anything I have revealed here, considering most viewers likely already figure out this film is fiction from its first scene. Not me, though -- I like to be surprised. And boy was this movie a delightful surprise.

Three astronauts steer off course on their return from the Apollo 18 mission in THE LANDING.

Overall: A-
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