There are many instances one encounters in life when, just at the point one feels they’ve exhausted all sources of information about a subject, something comes along and proves them wrong. Director Todd Douglas Miller’s illuminating and emotionally resonating documentary Apollo 11 is just such a thing. This is a film that satisfies in a way that last fall’s anticipated Oscar hopeful, First Man, did not. The experience thrusts you in the middle of the 1969 journey to the moon in a way that has rarely been captured before in either documentary or narrative film form. It works not only on the level of a nuts and bolts refresher course on the technical intricacies of the moon landing but also manages to satisfy emotionally as well. It’s a monumental task for a documentary to succeed on both levels but this is an instance where it works beautifully on both fronts.
Another one of the most amazing things regarding the film is how it paints such a complete and full portrait of the mission, from start to finish. Seeing the film, it’s hard to believe that it was previously thought that all was already known about what went on during that pivotal event in our nation’s history.
The experience of seeing the film Apollo 11 unfold provides the final word on the mission in way that’s retro and yet also has a contemporary feel. It’s hard to articulate how Miller pulls this off without experiencing it firsthand.
The film is structured in linear fashion and follows the astronauts from such seemingly mundane tasks as suiting up all the way to the historic landing on the lunar surface and the eventual return of the astronauts.
There is no narration, other than that of newsman Walter Cronkite’s reportage on the soundtrack, which is mostly heard during the film’s opening section.
The impetus for the project is also noteworthy. While Miller was synching up recently found audio with archival film footage, he discovered a large number of reels documenting the mission that had been previously unseen by the public. Originally intended as part of a documentary project that never quite came to fruition as originally envisioned, the director was stunned by what he found. Having been shot in the super large 70mm film format, the images revealed a stunningly clear vision of the mission that was never known to exist. It provides the viewer with an experience that will forever alter one’s perception of the Apollo 11 mission and its place in our collective history. I can not recommend it enough.
Apollo 11 is playing in selected IMAX theaters.
PHOTO: Scene from the documentary Apollo 11
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