As intimidating as the approach of another big anniversary of the Apollo moon landings might feel from some uncontrolled perspectives, it does mean documentaries are showing up. Over the Christmas holidays, I watched one about Apollo 8 on PBS, and then I happened to hear about a feature-length documentary about Apollo 11. It wasn’t long after that, though, that I heard that production would be shown in theatres, and I suppose I did reflect a bit on the journey I made over ten years ago
to see In the Shadow of the Moon
on a movie screen (before buying the DVD). On hearing the new documentary was showing up for its first screenings (only around the anniversary of Apollo 9, although by July things may be busier at the movies) I did decide to wait a week and see if, as the newspaper had it, it would get any closer to me, and that did happen. On the weekend, I set off to a fairly close multiplex.
The documentary did make some interesting choices, even if I kept acknowledging I’ve read enough about space exploration to always be able to back up with my own knowledge what I was seeing on the screen. (Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins got very brief biography sequences, including glimpses from their Gemini space flights.) It used period footage (in good shape, but not always “in Technicolor,” whatever that may mean) and period voices, avoiding any modern explanations beyond some very simple animations to set up the out-the-window shots, and using still photos taken on the moon when it had to. While it did use what I understand to be staging footage from a Saturn IB launch to represent third stage ignition, Apollo 11’s own “blastoff from the moon” footage, which started too late to show what Buzz Aldrin reported as the flag falling over, was shown. I can certainly say there were a few things shown that didn’t feel instantly familiar to me, on Earth and even in space.
Beyond In the Shadow of the Moon
and the earlier documentary For All Mankind
(which I first saw clips of at the Ontario Science Centre, then asked for on VHS), I suppose I could think a bit of the feature film First Man,
which I went to see late last year and did wonder about a few of the representations in, at least as compared to the older TV miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon.” Neil Armstrong having held the camera for most of the moonwalk means there aren’t any especially good photos of him on the moon (although he does show up in the film footage taken out the lunar module window), which I suppose makes a fictional representation of him a bit more memorable. Even so, I can imagine getting this documentary on home video before the feature, although some of the explanatory text on the movie screen was small enough I wonder what it’ll look like even on Blu-Ray.