APOLLO 11

Reviewed by GREG KING

Documentary

Director: Todd Douglas Miller.

Buzz Aldrin in Apollo 11 (2019)

This is a remarkable documentary about one of the most remarkable, audacious and inspiring technical achievements of the 20th century.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon, thus fulfilling President Kennedy’s pledge to send a man to the moon and return him safely to Earth. It was an achievement that temporarily brought everyone in the world together, and people of a certain age can remember where they were on that day.

This impeccably crafted documentary has been released to coincide with that historic occasion. Apollo 11 has been compiled from breathtaking never-before seen archival footage drawn from both NASA’s archives and the NARA, the US National Archives. NARA staff even uncovered an unprocessed collection of 65mm footage shot at that time. Director Todd Douglas Miller (Dinosaur 13, etc) was granted unprecedented and unrestricted access to NASA’s film archives and had access to some 11,000 hours of digital recordings and footage shot by the astronauts themselves. The footage has been painstakingly collated and edited down to the extraordinary and gripping 93 minutes we see on screen. The footage has been remastered and is especially pristine and looks marvellous on the big screen. The footage also includes some high resolution digitally scanned footage actually shot by Armstong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins themselves.

There is no traditional voice over narration here or talking head interviews, but rather Miller and his team have perfectly matched the voices of the three astronauts and mission control specialists to the images on screen. This makes for an immersive experience and gives audiences the perspective of the astronauts themselves and puts us in the tiny cockpit of the Apollo spacecraft.

The film unfolds in chronological fashion, tracking the nine days of the mission, from the three astronauts boarding the spacecraft to lift off, to the landing on the moon and to their triumphant return back to Earth. But even though we know the outcome of this historic mission Miller still manages to ratchet up the suspense and tension, particularly when a last-minute fuel leak threatens to delay the launch. There is a sense of tension and anticipation as the spacecraft touches down on the lunar surface and Neil Armstrong eventually emerges for that historic small step.

The mission to the moon itself is amazing, especially given the technology of the era – we see banks of computers throughout the control centre, and today that sort of computing power is carried around in our mobile phones – and the Apollo craft itself looks little more than a tin can. And archival footage of the launch itself gives us a snapshot of the crowd gathered at Cape Canaveral, and we can see the fashions, the cars and even the cameras used in that period. Even the Universal logo shown at the opening of the film is the same one they used way back in 1969.

But the film also reminds us that, while NASA was spending millions to achieve the moon landing, at the same time the US was bogged down in an increasingly unwinnable war in Vietnam, and the scandal following Teddy Kennedy’s accident at Chappaquiddick temporarily took the moon mission off the front pages of the newspapers.

Apollo 11 is a marvellous documentary and a superbly rendered reminder of a historical achievement, and with its stunning visuals and images it deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

★★★★

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