Apollo 11, the Sundance award winning documentary from Todd Douglas Miller is as close of a look as we will ever get to witness the inner workings of one of Man’s greatest adventures.
One of the many aspects of living in Arizona is that we are blessed with clear skies at night. Depending on where you live, you should have an unobstructed view of the starry sky. The moon, when it’s full will rise in the eastern sky, shrinking as its orbit around the Earth rises from my vantage point.
I often look up at the sky and wonder, “when are we going to go back?”
If I sound a little bit like Tom Hanks’s Jim Lovell from Apollo 13, it’s because he has asked such an important question: when will man get to rise above the confines of our little blue-green sphere and face the next challenge.
Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary, Apollo 11 aims to answer some of that question by taking us back to a time when our astronauts flew by the seat of their pants, when the general public was interested in such things. Part of it was the political situation of the late 1960’s: Vietnam, Watergate, the Cold War. For Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, the world’s attention was focused on their efforts beginning July 16, 1969. That was the day NASA launched Apollo 11 with the goal of putting a man on the moon.
Miller’s efforts revealed a cache of footage, totaling some 11 hours worth of original 35mm and 65mm film elements from the crew, the NASA team and private collections as well and painstakingly cleaned the image up. What follows is a linear recreation of the launch, the transition between earth and moon, the landing and the return trip, which occurred over eight days.
I had the opportunity to see the film in IMAX, which opens today for a one-week engagement, following its general release on March 8. As much as I was in awe of the images and the natural dialog between Mission Control and the crew, the flow of the documentary was seamless as if I was watching a fictionalized recreation of the events rather than the preserved footage, it is that powerful.
The key to the documentary though is in the power of Miller’s award-winning editing. The film, which Neon acquired in 2018 and premiered at Sundance in January, will be of interested to fans of the space program, historians, film buffs and anyone with a general curiosity.
There’s something else about Apollo 11 that makes the film even more special: you’re allowed to watch the events unfold naturally. What I mean by that is Miller takes the time to explain the technical terms, or who the players are; I never felt talked down to by the narrative.
I now have a better understanding the importance of Chazelle’s ending of First Man. I was just watching a now classic science fiction film, DeepStar Six the other night and, while that film really has nothing to do with these two films, it shows the effects of decompression from underwater. Apollo 11 really offers great insight into how space flight affects the physiology of humans and our oxygenation of the blood because the atmosphere for the astronauts’ changes compared to being on earth.
Apollo 11 is as educational as it is fascinating. The technical quality to the visual and audio aspects of the presentation really helped to put you in the mood. Matt Morton’s score for this film was created using instruments that would have only been available in 1969. It evokes tension in the right spots (maybe I’m overly sensitive) as well as bringing levity to the moments where we get to experience what it was actually like to see the country come together in support of something positive.
If I could offer a suggestion: firstly, see Apollo 11 (in IMAX if at all possible). Secondly, stick through the end credits. Miller does something really amazing with the title card that, if you’re not paying attention will catch you off guard. More importantly, stay through all the credits. I’m not telling you this because I’m a credit snob (I really am, but that’s not important now.)
Miller closes his documentary with an important message that once rallied the citizens behind a single cause: something to capture our imaginations. Our spirit. Our kinship with one another. As I started out, I relish in the opportunity to look up in to the night sky and ask “when are we going forward?”
Apollo 11 has been rated G by the MPAA.