This documentary takes us back to the summer of ’69 and the lunar mission by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, including film never before seen by the public.
The only additions by director Todd Douglas Miller to the raw (if remastered) footage are simple diagrams representing the spacecraft’s trajectory and some light-touch mood music. Yet in spite of letting it speak for itself, he successfully captures the anticipation, excitement, tension and relief of the voyage in a way never done by last year’s Armstrong biopic First Man. And even though you know they return safely, it still has the capacity to put you on the edge of your seat.
For those of us who grew up knowing a person had walked on the moon, it’s easy to take for granted this remarkable feat, and by showing the scores of engineers, scientists and communicators the scale of the accomplishment really hits home (unsurprisingly no-one thought to film the hidden figures). The mission required such precision, with so little room for human or mechanical error, that it shouldn’t have succeeded, and the fact it did with less computing power than we now carry round in our pockets is all the more incredible.
Surprising to me, in this age of satellites, probes and rovers, is that the explorers didn’t know what the surface of the moon would be like until they touched down and the only way to get samples was to send a person to collect them. Equally surprising are the precise maneuvers they carry out en route, detaching and re-attaching bits of the craft from each other as they hurtle along. If they faked the moon landing they did a bloody good job of it (although if anyone could it’s Stanley Kubrick).
Like Apollo 13, the film about 11’s ill-fated successor, it captures the loneliness of floating in a tiny metal can against the vast emptiness of space. Yet it also captures the excitement of a watching world, with assembled onlookers at the Kennedy Space Center and clips of the blanket news coverage (Ted Kennedy sure picked a good week to bury bad news) in what must be the most excitement generated by a feat of science until the invention of the sticky buddy.
It heavily features the three astronauts aboard the craft, including the oft-overlooked Collins, even giving them a cinematography credit. The three seem remarkably underwhelmed by the situation – I suppose they avoided people who were prone to emotional outbursts – and somehow, after over 8 days in space and the trauma of re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere, they stroll happily off the helicopter that collected them and wave to the assembled crowds.
This fascinating, thrilling, out-of-this world look at the moon rocks, and you’d need to be a lunar-tick not to see it.