We’ve seen a lot of films and documentaries that are based on true stories and revolve around astronauts at this point. Apollo 13, First Man, Hidden Figures, Apollo 18 (anyone else remember that one? Just me? Come on, it had rock monsters on the moon and everything) and the list goes on and on.
You can now count Apollo 11 as one of the better films to be on said list.
From director, editor and producer Todd Douglas Miller (he’s made a couple of other documentaries called Gahanna Bill, Scaring the Fish and Dinosaur 13), Apollo 11 is a new feature that tells, as you might expect based on the title, of the events that happened between July 16 and July 24 in 1969.
Those events being Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins’ trip to the moon, of course.
While this story has been told countless times before, Miller comes at the subject matter with a brand new angle. Working with British archivist and film editor Stephen Slater, Miller was able to obtain a large number of audio recordings and 16 mm Mission Control footage that was taken at the time of the moon landing.
Miller then cut all of that together and, without using any narration to accompany that, presents it as a very hands-on kind of way to see what, exactly, the astronauts and employees of NASA were thinking at the time.
That isn’t an exaggeration, either. There isn’t any voice-over or interviews that are shown at any point in Apollo 11. The film starts on the day that they’re launched into space and ends on the day they come back. They don’t waste any time explaining everything that led up to these events — which is one of the best things about the film.
Miller is wise enough to realize that this likely isn’t the audiences first exposure to the moon landing. We don’t need Neil Armstrong’s personal life explained to us in-detail as First Man did and we don’t need to hear about how it played into the Cold War (as in the event, not the Cold War film) again — to the point where I’m fairly confident that Russia isn’t even mentioned in the documentary.
Rather, Apollo 11 exists to provide a never-seen-before view into the stress that everyone involved in the project was under at the time and show just how easily things could have gone much, much worse.
I really like this film a lot, in case you couldn’t tell by now.
The footage that Miller uses really does an incredible job at that first-person point-of-view, too. They don’t have a ton of actual shots of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins on board the vessel, but they have a fair amount of images taken from outside the rocket, the takeoff and what was happening on the ground at the time.
Some of it, as you might imagine, does look like it was recorded in the 1960s. Other moments, however, appear to be restored in a They Shall Not Grow Old kind of way.
This is especially true at the beginning of the movie when we see the Saturn V take-off, as well as towards the ending when we see some of the post-mission efforts while aboard the USS Hornet, but some of the shots have been touched up to almost make them look like they could have been taken in modern day.
While that created somewhat of an ethical dynamic in They Shall Not Grow Old, I’m okay with it here because it just adds to the feeling that this documentary is showing us what being alive and inside NASA at this time was really like.
Of course, there’s plenty of footage of the moon landing itself, too — most of which we’ve probably seen before. We’ve never seen it quite like this, though, as Apollo 11 puts it in such a context that it’s all the more powerful when it actually hits.
Really, you can’t give Miller enough credit for his ability to achieve that. You might be tempted to look at this and think that it wouldn’t be as hard to make compared to some giant spectacle Hollywood films like Captain Marvel or Alita: Battle Angel, but, really, this is just as difficult.
It’s a different medium, yes, but Miller had to sift through all of those archived recordings and images and then string it all together in a way that not only makes sense and factually tells the story, but also one that provides some kind of theatrical and moving experience.
Miller’s job sounds almost as stressful is that of the astronauts, is all I’m saying.
Apollo 11 is a film that might be gaged to a certain audience or age-range (like Arctic, this is another great dad movie), but it’s really for anybody. Even people who claim that they don’t like documentaries (whatever that means) will find something to enjoy here, because this really doesn’t play out like a documentary. In many ways, it feels like a feature-film with steady pacing, rising and falling actions, a climax and finale, only it happens to star real people and it’s all based on things that really did happen.
This might not be the movie you want to show someone who’s never been exposed to the moon landing or literally knows nothing about NASA, but it is one that does tell the audience what being an astronaut would have really been like.
Terrifying. It most definitely, without a doubt, would have been terrifying to be inside that rocket. I’m fairly confident that I would have been the worst astronaut known to mankind.
Regardless, Apollo 11 is a rather unique and particularly well-made documentary that’s probably going to be better than most that you are going to see in theaters this year.
Watch the trailer for Apollo 11 here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought of the film!
'Apollo 11' - Let's go to space (again) [REVIEW]9