On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first people to step foot on the moon. It was here that one of the most profound quotes of all time was uttered by Armstrong. “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”. And with Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11, there is now a documentation of this event unlike any other. Comprised solely of recently discovered 70mm archive footage, Apollo 11 stands as a testament to what mankind can achieve, but also the leaps and bounds technology has experienced.
The quality of the film alone is a spectacle worth seeing in theaters. The condition of the 70mm film is beyond pristine. So much so, there are moments throughout where one must remind themselves this isn’t a narrative film, but pure archived footage. It is absolutely enthralling watching the rocket prepare for takeoff. And when the final minute begins to count down, goosebumps will rise. It’s mesmerizing hearing and seeing all the minute details being examined, due to the sheer volume of their importance. Yet one of the most intriguing aspects of this film is not the footage of the mission, but the footage of the anticipation surrounding it.
For example, there is a portion of the film dedicated to the civilians camping out to watch the rocket launch. Massive crowds of families are shown gathered in parking lots and parks and beaches. All of them simply hoping to get a glimpse of the momentous occasion that is about to occur. It warms the heart, seeing countless individuals, be brought together by a singular event. It inspires hope to say the very least, and this documentary comes at a time when it is necessary. Celebrating both 50 years since the landmark event, but also giving a chance to look forward on what will come next.
Ironically, once the astronauts get to space is unfortunately when the film takes a bit of a fall. The problem lies within the footage, but not the quality of it by any means. Due to its magnitude, it fortunately doesn’t feel bland. However, many times throughout, the footage is just unable to be made out properly. It is a feat in and of itself to say this footage can now be viewed. Yet the question remains on whether it can properly morph into an enjoyable film experience. Surely, hardcore space fanatics will be enamored with it, but it does not seem like it will translate well for those simply going for the spectacle’s entertainment value.
Apollo 11 takes a very broad approach to the entire mission, although it would have been nice to get more astronaut footage. The brief moments we hear from them were both entertaining and moving. Their immense pride pours out of the screen at times, and it shows in their actions. For example, they begin listening to the radio upon their return trip to Earth. It is here that “Mother Country” by John Stewart begins playing. For those who have not heard it, it is a fantastic companion to the film and its theme. Perseverance and country pride are at the forefront of the lyrics, and it’s the only time the score by Matt Morton takes a backseat. Interspersed with footage of NASA preparing for their triumphant return, it achieves what every documentary hopes for. And this hope goes hand in hand with Morton’s score.
The music in this film has one goal. To invoke pure emotion in the audience, and in this case, it is immense joy and pride. And Morton seemingly achieves this effortlessly. It matches the intensity of the mission at hand. It invokes otherworldly sensations as space is shown as it never has been prior. Simply put, it feels as authentic as can be. The only instruments used were those that existed in 1969. With that in mind, it makes sense why it works so well as a companion. Morton crafts a score that is captivating from beginning to end, regardless of the events transpiring.
While Apollo 11 has its lulls at times, it is safe to say this documentary is a necessary one. It propels the documentary genre to new heights. So much so that many will question whether this footage is truly half a century old. If anything is clear, it is that Miller has a deep passion for this subject. His documentary is larger than a film. It is larger than an event. It symbolizes just what the moon landing can inspire on a small scale. JFK stated that we chose to go to the moon because it would measure the best of our energy and skills. Miller has done that with Apollo 11, so it will definitely be interesting to see where he channels that energy next.
What’s your favorite space film and what draws you to it? Let us know in the comments below!
Apollo 11 is playing in IMAX for one week only starting March 1 before opening in theaters everywhere March 8.