Apollo 11, rated G
Apollo 11 is an amazing documentary about the eight-day mission to land two men on the moon that took place nearly fifty years ago. The film is comprised primarily of restored color footage, much of which has never been seen before. It takes us from about three hours before liftoff on July 16, 1969 through the safe return of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and their subsequent eighteen days of quarantine.
The film is superbly directed and edited by Todd Douglas Miller. He uses never before seen full color footage from the NASA archives that was shot for a documentary that was ultimately abandoned. Much of the footage looks so good that it appears that it could have been shot yesterday. There are no actors, reenactments, narration, voice-over or interviews included. Instead, Miller tells the story of the mission in the present tense using the communications that actually took place between the astronauts and the supervisors, engineers and technicians speaking into headsets at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and NASA Mission Control in Houston, along with a few comments from Walter Cronkite, and an excerpt from a 1961 speech about putting a man on the moon by President John F. Kennedy. He effectively uses narrative titles, countdown clocks and a small amount of animation that are helpful in showing the viewer the various mind-boggling maneuvers the mission will need to undergo in order to be successful.
Early in the film we briefly see photographs from each of the astronaut’s lives.
We see several shots of people (including comedian Johnny Carson), gathered miles away (on balconies, a J.C. Penney’s store parking lot, etc.) to observe the launch.
We hear about a leaky hydrogen valve on the launch pad that caused a momentary concern in the early morning hours on the day of the launch. The incredible liftoff sequence made me feel like I was there witnessing it.
We again get to hear Neil Armstrong’s famous statement “That’s one small step for Man, one giant leap for Mankind” as he becomes the first person to step on the moon. The clarity of the footage from the moon and in space was particularly amazing. The moon footage was so clear that you could easily make out the footsteps of Armstrong and Aldrin, the two astronauts who walked on the moon.
Of special note is Matt Morton’s electronic score, which was created using only instruments that existed back in 1969. One minor concern for the viewer is that some of the communications were difficult to distinguish. Subtitles would have been helpful in those instances.
Apollo 11 is an incredible Oscar worthy documentary featuring never before seen color footage and audio recordings. This is a film that the entire family can enjoy. You’ll want to see it in the theatre on a big screen, if at all possible.