On its fiftieth anniversary, the events surrounding the actual Apollo 11 space mission are presented solely using archival footage and still photographs of or associated with the mission. The events span from the eleventh hour preparations for the launch to shortly after the safe touchdown of the capsule with its three astronauts back on Earth. The mission is historic as the first time humans had stepped on the surface of the Earth's moon. It arguably made household names of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as the first and second to walk on the moon, and slightly less so for the third astronaut, Michael Collins, who remained inside the capsule at the time. It was arguably the most dangerous space mission at the time in part to the astronauts leaving the safety of the capsule.Written by
Much of the ground footage featured in the documentary had been filmed in 65-millimeter Panavision, while closeup shots had been filmed in 70-millimeter format, the same format used in "2001: A Space Odyssey". See more »
The incident involving Buzz Aldrin's bio-med sensors going out, leading him to crack wise, saying, "I promise I will let you know if I stop breathing," occurred during the return voyage, on day 8 of the mission, but is depicted (at approx 48 minutes into the film) as happening during the approach to the moon before the separation of the command and lunar modules. See more »
A half-century ago, Neil Armstrong stepped off the ladder of the Lunar Module Eagle and into the history books. In the decades since, that moment and the flights of NASA's Apollo program have been chronicled in seemingly countless documentaries. At the top of that list remains 1989's For All Mankind from the late Al Reinert and 2007's In The Shadow Of The Moon from British filmmakers David Sington and Christopher Riley. Up there with them now is 2019's Apollo 11, an exciting new film from Todd Douglas Miller that is begging for you to see it on the biggest screen possible.
In part because of Miller who, like those other great filmmakers of Apollo before him, wasn't content to merely do a rehash of what had come before. Miller's Apollo 11 is in part a deep dive into the NASA archives, uncovering things that even the most seasoned space enthusiast has likely never seen before. There's a wealth of pre-launch footage, for example, tracing the preparations from the rollout of the massive Saturn V rocket to the launch pad to multiple perspectives of the launch itself. Even when events move into space, there's still a wealth of rare material to experience including conversations between the astronauts themselves as well as between them and Mission Control in Houston. Even where footage that has become synonymous with the mission and the era such as the stage separations of the rocket or the Lunar Module's descent to the surface of the Moon, it's presented with clarity and scale rarely seen elsewhere. For that alone, the film renders excellent service.
It does so in other ways, as well. Unlike those two documentaries I mentioned at the top of this review, Miller doesn't use astronaut interviews (either aural or visual) to help tell the story. Instead, Apollo 11 unfolds entirely through archival sources ranging from the transmissions to the voice of NASA's public affairs or well-known TV commentators like Walter Cronkite. To help aid visually for parts of the mission where there isn't much or anything to show, the film employees simple animation alongside such commentaries. The film also makes effective use of split-screen and captions to portray mission control or to show events such as the actual walk on the Moon from multiple perspectives. As much as the footage itself on a cinema screen does, it presents the sheer scale of the endeavor but without losing the viewer in the technicalities involved in spaceflight.
In some ways, that's the greatest triumph of Apollo 11 the documentary. It's a film keen to present Apollo 11 the mission in awe-inspiring yet understandable terms, one that emphasizes how incredible in scope and achievement that flight five decades ago this July was. It's also a reminder, at a time when cinema screens find themselves increasingly dominated by would-be blockbusters and superhero flicks, of the raw power of cinema to present stories. Both of those are things we need reminding of, it seems, and the film does a superb job of both.
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