Monday, July 22, 2019

Apollo 11 (2019 documentary)

It really is just like you were there.

On Saturday, CNN broadcast the 2019 documentary "Apollo 11" by Todd Douglas Miller. This was the film I had heard about earlier this year, but never got around to seeing in the theater or on IMAX.

Big mistake.

Miller uses recently discovered archival footage, much of which is in color and 70 mm, and creates an immersive experience. With no modern voice over, the only dialogue comes from Walter Cronkite, but only when the astronauts on readying for their flight. Other than that, all the voices are contemporary to 1969.

One of the best things was the footage of all the folks who lined the roads and parking lots in Florida that July day to watch the Saturn V rocket blast off. Families eating and playing together, couples lying on the beach, folks crowding the balconies of a motel, all angling to get a good look. You really get the vibe of a day-in-the-life of the summer of 1969. The clothes, the cars. One of my favorite things during my graduate research via microfilm--and the thing that always sidetracked me--was the newspaper ads. You get a good glimpse into what people bought and sold. Same thing here. I especially loved all the folks watching the launch through their own individual camera lenses. Just like modern concerts and smart phones.

The space flight itself was also cool. There's the moment after Apollo 11 has left Earth orbit where the crew have to maneuver the command module around, dock with the lunar lander, then rotate again, and fire the rockets. The camera follows in real time as Michael Collins pilots the command module in the docking. Look, it happened fifty years ago. I know it was successful. But I still found myself breathless, hoping nothing would go wrong.

Yeah, it's that kind of film.

The actual walking on the moon footage is something special, too. It's not the typical black-and-white image from the side of the Eagle lander. It's from Buzz Aldrin's point of view. You get a top-down view of Neil Armstrong as he descends the ladder and steps foot on the moon.

Also exciting is the liftoff of the lander from the moon to re-dock with the command module. The filmmaker does a repeat of the docking sequence. What surprised me was NASA talking to Collins who orbited the moon while Armstrong and Aldrin walked the moon. Collins didn't see it live. He was on the far side when it happened.

The film started at 8 pm on Saturday. I watched it in a different room while my wife watched another program for an hour. She would then pick up Apollo 11 at 9 pm, watch to the end, then catch the first hour on the re-broadcast. I ended up watching the whole thing all the way through again.

Loved it.

If you haven't seen Apollo 11, the 2019 documentary, I highly recommend it. Now, I'm going on the hunt for Miller's other documentary about Apollo 17 called The Last Steps.

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