Moon land­ings doc­u­men­tary is a truly strato­spheric work

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE - Gre­gory Wake­man

It doesn’t take long for Apollo 11 to take one’s breath away. The doc­u­men­tary’s strato­spheric scope be­comes ev­i­dent from the very first se­quence, as the tit­u­lar space­craft is ma­noeu­vred into po­si­tion so Neil Arm­strong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins can be blasted on their mo­men­tous mis­sion to the Moon.

Di­rec­tor Todd Dou­glas Miller and his team sifted through hun­dreds of hours of footage ac­quired from the US govern­ment ar­chives to seem­ingly recre­ate ev­ery de­tail of the jour­ney on which Arm­strong be­came the first per­son to set foot on the lu­nar sur­face.

Rather than in­ter­view­ing those who were in­volved in the mis­sion, Miller has such a wide va­ri­ety of footage that he is able to keep the film in the present tense through­out, and con­se­quently Apollo 11 turns into an im­mer­sive cin­e­matic ex­pe­ri­ence. This also al­lows Miller to ex­plore var­i­ous un­told mo­ments from the Apollo 11 mis­sion, and while he also touches upon some of the most ex­cit­ing el­e­ments of the mis­sion, that they have been told an in­fi­nite amount of times across a va­ri­ety of me­dia in the past 50 years means that you don’t mind see­ing Miller dive into the de­tail of these in­ci­dents.

Not only does it take 22 min­utes for Apollo 11 to blast off, but in that time the most ex­cit­ing thing to hap­pen is the dis­cov­ery of leaky valve that tech­ni­cians fix within min­utes. It doesn’t mat­ter, though Miller’s pa­tient and eye-open­ing ap­proach is so il­lu­mi­nat­ing that you’re not just cap­ti­vated by the de­tail that went into send­ing the first men to the Moon, but it is also up­lift­ing – even life-af­firm­ing – to watch these achieve­ments un­fold. The main rea­son Apollo 11 proves to be so cap­ti­vat­ing is the con­di­tion of the footage, which is so im­mac­u­late that it gen­uinely looks as though it has been staged, de­signed and shot on a Hol­ly­wood set.

Dur­ing the open­ing stages, Miller ex­pertly mixes shots of the space­craft with footage from the con­trol room, as well as news cov­er­age. We get nar­ra­tion from for­mer CBS an­chor Wal­ter Cronkite as he in­tro­duces the mis­sion and its ob­jec­tions in his inim­itable fash­ion. We also see photograph­s and clips of Arm­strong, Miller and Collins through­out the years as they were train­ing and of their pre­vi­ous ex­cur­sions into space, plus shots of the crowd queu­ing out­side of Kennedy Space Cen­tre in Florida, all of which adds a cin­e­matic dy­namism that un­der­lines the breadth and scale of the doc­u­men­tary.

Miller’s in­ge­nious use of what­ever footage he had avail­able is prom­i­nent through­out

Apollo 11, as photograph­s of Earth, heart read­ings and sim­ply a read­ing of the space­craft’s ve­loc­ity drop­ping to alarm­ing lev­els are in­cor­po­rated at pre­cisely the right time, and in ex­actly the right style, to in­crease the ten­sion in a story to which 99 per cent of view­ers know the end­ing.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, watch­ing Apollo 11 ac­tu­ally blast from its launch pad and travel out of the Earth’s at­mos­phere into space is par­tic­u­larly hyp­notic and grat­i­fy­ing. But rather than al­low­ing the film to wilt af­ter this ex­cite­ment, Miller knows that he has hooked his au­di­ence so in­tently he is able ex­plore the sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy that made this achieve­ment pos­si­ble.

Miller makes sure to never overindulg­e or even come close to bor­ing his au­di­ence with this minu­tiae, though. Not only does he com­press the three­day jour­ney from Earth to the Moon, but dur­ing this time he high­lights the skill, in­tel­li­gence, com­po­sure and even hu­mour of Arm­strong, Collins and Aldrin.

It must be said that the sheer num­ber and va­ri­ety of an­gles and shots through­out the doc­u­men­tary, all gen­uinely stag­ger­ing, means it is highly un­likely that all of the footage used is solely from the Apollo 11 mis­sion. In­stead, some of it was al­most cer­tainly gath­ered dur­ing sub­se­quent treks to the Moon. But Miller in­te­grates it so smoothly and it en­hances the story so em­phat­i­cally that you for­give any trans­gres­sions.

And while there are more dra­matic and thrilling movies that ex­plore space travel, and even de­pict jour­neys to the Moon,

Apollo 11 ul­ti­mately man­ages to res­onate deeper and make more of an im­pact than any of them be­cause what you are watch­ing ac­tu­ally hap­pened. Arm­strong, Aldrin and Collins, with the help of thou­sands of Nasa em­ploy­ees, put their lives in jeop­ardy to show what hu­mans are ca­pa­ble of.

Apollo 11 is in UAE cin­e­mas from Thurs­day

CNN Films

Archival footage is used to cap­ti­vat­ing ef­fect in ‘Apollo 11’

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