Todd Douglas Miller's gripping documentary about the moon landing actually feels like going into space
Most of us know that in 1969 a manned rocket took flight, left our atmosphere, and went to the moon. After all these years, though, what is there left to say about the moon landing that hasn’t already been said? But here’s a new documentary from filmmaker Todd Douglas Miller, released to coincide with the 50th anniversary, that asks not ‘”What is there to say?” but “What is there to see?”
Turns out there’s lots, both on Earth and in space. As a riveting, visual account of the landmark eight day-long mission, Apollo 11 winds up feeling less like just another moon landing doc and something closer to the definitive take. Using an assemblage of stunningly restored and previously unseen archive footage, it’s an awe-inspiring experience meant for the biggest screen possible. See it to believe it-type stuff.
It takes a while to adjust to the clarity of the footage that makes up the bulk of the film, and that’s before we’ve even gone to space. The high-definition picture has an almost eerily unreal quality to it – especially the parts showing NASA scientists and the crowds of spectators, waiting for lift-off. We’re not accustomed to seeing the past rendered in such vivid detail and it seems impossible that the clips – many of which have never been seen before – could be made to look so crisp. It’s like falling back in time.
Apollo 11 is also refreshingly free of the bells and whistles that many modern documentaries rely on to heighten the drama. There are no talking heads. No narrative tricks. What use would they be, anyway, given the subject matter here already comes with its own straightforward, endlessly gripping trajectory? As we watch Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins embark on a mission so free of incident that it almost feels routine, it’s like going into space yourself. The astronauts are so calm and so professional – their heart rates, we are reminded frequently, are rarely anything but steady – that Apollo 11 allows us to marvel at their courage as though for the first time.
There are shots here that seem plucked right out of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Wars. Many of the ground sequences have the air of a lost sci-fi film, a retro-futurist fantasy from the mind of a director like Duncan Jones. The more famous moments still land with full force: Armstrong and Aldrin playfully bouncing on the lunar surface, brought to life in a slideshow of iconic photographs; the call from President Nixon, whose presence is a sobering reminder of what a conflicted place America was at the time.
But this is a documentary that cares little for politics or even the science behind the mission. Instead it strives to recreate the experience of going to the moon in the purest way imaginable. For most of us, Apollo 11 is the closet thing we’ll ever get to space travel. As substitutes go, this one truly soars.
By: Tom Barnard
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This post was categorised in Reviews.