There’s a documentary out in theatres right now titled, simply, Apollo 11, and it’s rather neat. For you see, while it is a straightforward documentary on Apollo 11, it has an interesting conceit: all of the film is comprised of actual archival footage or audio from the actual mission. (The only exception is a couple of shots from other Apollo missions, and some line drawing animations showing the position and sequence of the craft on its way to and from the moon.) That’s pretty cool. There are no talking heads, no voice-over narration unless it comes from audio spoken and transmitted at the time (to which mission control and news reports do a great job for that), and no big explanations or digressions. It’s the closest you can get to ‘cinema verité’ and ‘home movies from space’, just the story unfolding in a narrative manner as it happened.
Best of all, a lot of the footage is of the “never before seen” type, found almost forgotten in a NASA vault, shot in glorious 70mm and scanned at a ridiculously high resolution. There are some amazing shots and sequences that alone were worth the price of admission, doubly so worth it to see it on a large screen. There were also some candid moments of levity between the crew and control that were both hilarious and oh so human, a lovely touch to this technological marvel that, at the same time, touches our souls deeply in the spirit of exploration, accomplishment, and wonder.*
I would have preferred things if they hadn’t broken the conceit to include the animations (though I understand why they did so, not everyone would be as familiar with it all as I was), but my biggest “complaint” is simply that I wanted it to be longer. I wanted more of the amazing footage, more of the banter, more of the wonder unfolding before me. And that’s pretty high praise indeed.
Apollo 11 is a definite good, well worth seeing in a cinema. A great remembrance of a grand mission.
* To this end, if you haven’t seen the documentary In the Shadow of the Moon I highly, highly recommend it. It’s the complete opposite of Apollo 11, composed of interviews with most of the astronauts who travelled to the moon (Michael Collins is a freakin’ riot, I love that guy) and it’s profound to hear of their experiences.