Although gathering “Moon rocks” was an essential part of the mission, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin also placed several ongoing experiments on the lunar surface. Courtesy photo


‘Apollo 11’: To infinity, and beyond!

‘Apollo 11’

Five stars 

Starring: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, Deke Slayton, Clifford E. Charlesworth and dozens of the CAPCOM support team

Rating: G, and suitable for all ages

Captivating documentary depicts the debut moon landing

By Derrick Bang
Enterprise film critic

365体育投注The images haven’t lost their power, and I’m sure they never will.

365体育投注We’ve had no shortage of NASA-themed re-creations and documentaries since 1995’s “Apollo 13”; that drama definitely jump-started its own genre, starting with 1998’s equally compelling 12-part miniseries, “From the Earth to the Moon.”

365体育投注All manner of IMAX entries followed, from 2002’s “Space Station 3D” and 2010’s “Hubble,” to 2016’s “A Beautiful Planet.”

365体育投注But nothing compares to the real thing.

Documentarian Todd Douglas Miller’s “Apollo 11” is a mesmerizing depiction of the off-world mission that fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s May 1961 message to Congress, when he concluded, “Then we must be bold!” (Ah, for the days when our presidents were so inspirational and unifying.)

Thanks to a newly discovered trove of previously unprocessed 65mm footage, along with more than 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio recordings — and supplemented with some familiar images that we’ve seen over the years — Miller and his team meticulously condensed the eight-day mission into a thoroughly absorbing 93-minute experience.

365体育投注Indeed, at times the presentation borders on candid intimacy, given some of the light-hearted exchanges between the three astronauts and Mission Control.

Miller, who also edited his film, makes excellent use of split-screen, to depict simultaneous events (and, at times, add a bit of drama).

We’re also reminded of the era’s limitations; the notion that we accomplished this with early-gen computers makes the success even more astonishing. Heck, this is a time when engineers still used slide rules to verify — and compute (!) — performance specs.

The film opens with a jaw-dropping visual — at slightly more than three hours before takeoff — as the two ginormous “crawlers” slowly transport the Saturn V rocket to the launch site. (As well-versed as I am on the Apollo program, I don’t recall ever having seen this process so up close and personal. Like, wow.)

A brief pan throughout Mission Control reveals a sea of men in shirt sleeves and crew cuts, with but one lone woman; the camera pauses on her, to emphasize the disparity (which resonates in an entirely different manner today than it would have then). Good ol’ Walter Cronkite’s voice is heard off-camera: so well-spoken, so poetic, so uplifting and reassuring.

365体育投注Michael Collins, making a short statement, concludes with a sentence that is eerily prophetic: “The enormity of this event is something that only history will be able to judge.”

365体育投注No kidding. Watching all this anew, half a century later, the little hairs still rise at the back of the neck.

365体育投注Slices of home-movie footage reveal the thousands upon thousands of rapt visitors, from all across the country — and the world — who’ve crowded on nearby beaches, parking lots, boat docks and motel balconies to witness history in the making. Many of these people are miles away, but that doesn’t matter; their excitement is palpable.

Freeze-frame during a pan of the viewing stands, and you’ll spot sci-fi author Isaac Asimov, “Tonight Show” stalwarts Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon, comedian Jack Benny, President Lyndon B. Johnson and Vice President Spiro Agnew.

The final countdown is interrupted by the discovery of a leak in a liquid hydrogen valve — a mild heart-stopper! — but the countdown continues when the situation is corrected and bypassed. Miller initially dials out the sound as the Saturn rockets ignite — a moment of utter silence — and then the roar overwhelms the soundtrack (much as that blast would have taken milliseconds to reach the observers, so far away).

Tension is maintained, throughout, by the additional countdowns that precede every significant portion of the mission: far more than merely the five-four-three-two-one blast off at the beginning. The most suspenseful, by far, is the Lunar module’s descent to the Moon’s surface and Neil Armstrong’s last-minute correction toward a more favorable landing site.

This is the sign of a talented director who has viewers in his palms: Despite our knowing365体育投注 the result, pretty much at every stage, watching it unfold is no less thrilling and suspenseful.

Along with the frisson365体育投注 that runs up our spines, when Armstrong reports: “Tranquility Base here … the Eagle has landed.”

Armstrong is first to step onto the Moon, of course, and his iconic statement is etched in our memories. But Buzz Aldrin’s subsequent remark, as he descends onto the surface, is more poetic: “Beautiful … beautiful,” he breathes, the awe in his voice readily evident, “magnificent desolation.”

One of many fun facts revealed here: Armstrong’s heart rate, monitored throughout the mission and normally a placid 110, shot up to 156 at touchdown.

President Richard Nixon makes the “most historic” phone call ever to emanate from the White House (and cannily slides a bit into political sentiment). Armstrong and Aldrin gather samples and set up experiments that’ll be left behind.

365体育投注The Eagle’s subsequent departure is a genuine nail-biter, as velocity-matching maneuvers are undertaken, in order to reconnect with the orbiting Columbia. The return journey is punctuated by an unexpectedly poignant moment, as in-cabin footage captures a personal cassette recorder tinnily playing John Stewart’s nostalgic “Mother Country.” The song swells into the soundtrack, briefly overpowering composer Matt Morton’s era-appropriate Moog Synthesizer and Mellotron score.

365体育投注The astronauts’ final broadcast from space, just prior to splashdown, is a genuine tear-jerker: a heartfelt shout-out to all the technicians, scientists, ground crew — and everybody else — who made their mission a reality.

Armstrong’s aside, also just prior to splashdown, carries an echo of young Judy Garland’s final magical words in an iconic 1939 film: “No matter where you travel, it’s always nice to get home!”


365体育投注One must remember that this film was designed for the giant IMAX theater screen. As a result, although it’s still an enthralling experience at home — thanks to Amazon Prime and other streaming services — the smaller presentation makes the frequent text blocks and IDs almost too tiny to read. That can be frustrating.

But it certainly doesn’t detract from this film’s power: a sterling testament to what we can achieve when working in collaborative harmony.

— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at http://derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at redaslaoui.com.


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