May 3, 2019
Street Date 5/14/19;
Box Office $8.56 million;
$22.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray;
In preparing this 50th anniversary retrospective of the first moon landing, director Todd Douglas Miller and his team uncovered troves of previously unreleased film from the NASA archives.
Much of the footage was in 70mm, making the project a natural fit for an Imax presentation. And while the impact of the large-format screen is undeniable, the high-definition re-creation of the historic mission is just as stunning in a home-viewing setting.
According to the three-minute behind-the-scenes featurette included on the Blu-ray, this well-preserved footage was scanned at 8K and 16K using brand new equipment to remaster it at the highest resolutions yet possible.
The 93-minute documentary lets the footage itself tell the story of the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969, using no narration or retrospective interviews. Exposition is similarly handled through whatever someone might have said to explain it at the time, primarily through the audio feeds of the technicians and astronauts, or newscasts from famous voices such as Walter Cronkite.
Miller does provide bits of animation to demonstrate key mission details, as well as on-screen graphics denoting mission times and spacecraft speeds when such information would be most pertinent to understanding what is going on.
The clarity of the newly found footage really puts the audience in the moment, be it at mission control, at the launch pad or among the millions of onlookers camped out along the Florida coast to get a glimpse of the massive Saturn V rocket blasting into space.
The film is as much a tribute to the men and women working at all levels of the space program to put a man on the moon, giving audiences a view beyond the grandeur, at all-too-human moments that seem like almost a footnote today, and details that even many space enthusiasts may be surprised by.
For example, as the world focused on astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins heading to the launch pad, technicians were working to fix a leak in one of the rocket’s engines, just a few hours before lift-off.
Then, a few days into the mission, we’re reminded that the Apollo missions weren’t the only source of major news in the world, as we overhear some NASA engineers discussing the Chappaquiddick incident, when Teddy Kennedy drove his car off a bridge and left his female passenger to drown. That happened two days after Apollo 11 launched.
The documentary also enlightens us with some otherwise mundane information, such as the heart rates of the astronauts during the more stressful phases of the mission — Armstrong’s pulse during the lunar landing passed 150 beats per minute — that continues to ground the events in a common humanity.
There’s also some lip service to the cosmic radiation the astronauts would have been exposed to — often brought up by conspiracy theorists who don’t believe humans could survive long durations in space. The truth is, passing through the Van Allen radiation belt surrounding Earth, the speed of the Apollo capsule would have been sufficient enough so that its occupants would have absorbed a radiation dose equivalent to a typical X-ray scan.
Aside from the spectacular launch footage, another highlight of the film is the presentation of the landing sequence in real time, using mission audio synced to camera footage taken from a camera mounted on the lunar module during its descent.
Rounding out the documentary is a mixture of still photographs and archival footage from a variety of sources, some familiar and some offering new perspectives on known events.
For fans of the space program, history buffs in general, or just plain people who could use a reminder of the technological achievements man is capable of, Apollo 11 is a documentary that should not be missed.