Thursday, July 18, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Apollo 11 (2019)

This week is the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, so it was great timing for me to watch this year's amazing APOLLO 11 (2019) documentary, recently released on Blu-ray.

The documentary utilizes newly discovered 65mm footage of the mission which sent astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to outer space, culminating in Armstrong and Aldrin traveling onward to the surface of the moon. The footage was remastered, and the crispness and clarity of the images on the Blu-ray is nothing less than stunning.

I particularly loved that the documentary does not have a traditional narrator. The nine-day mission unfolds with the visuals accompanied by contemporaneous NASA voice recordings, along with some occasional TV commentary. The audio tracks were chosen from among thousands of previously uncatalogued NASA recordings.

I really liked the "just the facts" approach; the narrative doesn't require anything additional for either clarity or drama. My only criticism in this regard is that brief notes of explanation, which were probably easy to read on an IMAX theater screen, were sometimes too small to be easily read on the Blu-ray.

Remarkably, this straightforward account plays like a suspense thriller; even knowing well what would happen, I found myself almost holding my breath at the moments of greatest peril, especially taking off from the moon and re-entry to earth's atmosphere.

I think what was accomplished may possibly be even more mind-blowing in hindsight than it was at the time, recognizing how relatively primitive our technology and computers were then compared to half a century later. Watching the countless faces at monitors exclaiming "Go!" "Go!" brings home how the skills of so many people contributed to successfully pulling it off.

In terms of the danger involved, I've sometimes wondered if an astronaut ever had second thoughts after the hatch was shut or if they were so well screened and tightly focused on their jobs that nothing like "Gee, maybe I'd rather not" ever crossed their minds. The shots of the astronauts' faces suiting up were remarkable. Collins looks serious, Aldrin has a slightly cocky half-smile, and the weight of the world is in Armstrong's eyes.

In a following scene, Mission Control reports the flight surgeon's data regarding the astronauts' heart rates during liftoff. Especially coming after looking at the men's faces just before they boarded the spaceship, it's fascinating to note Aldrin's heart rate on liftoff was only 88. How is it even possible to be that calm blasting off the earth on top of all that fuel?! He seemed to have nerves of steel. For the record, Collins clocked at 99 and Armstrong's heart rate at that moment was 110.

APOLLO 11 was edited and directed by Todd Douglas Miller.

The Blu-ray includes the trailer and a short featurette in which the filmmakers discuss seeing the 65mm footage for the first time, as well as "70mm perf" footage, and the huge project of organizing all the footage and sound recordings into a cohesive narrative.

For those interested in learning more, here are links to additional reviews by Kenneth Turan at the Los Angeles Times, Leonard Maltin, and Owen Gleiberman at Variety.

APOLLO 11 should be an excellent companion to the documentary FOR ALL MANKIND (1989), which I ordered in this summer's Criterion Collection sale at Barnes & Noble.

APOLLO 11 is recommended viewing.


Blogger Seth said...

My brother-in-law got APOLLO 11 on Blu-ray and we watched it last night—it was just magnificent and must have been absolutely breathtaking on IMAX! I’d highly recommend it. Then afterward, I put on the episode of CALIFORNIA’S GOLD where Huell visits Edwards AFB to see the original lunar landing research vehicle.

I missed FOR ALL MANKIND when it was on TCM last Tuesday, so now I’m thinking we should rent it from Amazon, at least.

11:06 PM  

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