A-Ron’s Movie Reviews: Apollo 11

One Of The Most Incredible Films Ever Made, With Unseen Footage With A Clarity That Is Filmed Like A Feature Film. “Apollo 11” Is A Time Machine That Takes You Back 50 Years Ago & Gives You A Front Row Seat To History’s Most Monumental Event. 

There have been countless films about the NASA space center and space exploration, most famously: “2001 A Space Odyssey”, “The Right Stuff”, “Apollo 13”, “Space Cowboys” and most recently “First Man”. These filmmakers is always fighting for realism and uses NASA space center as consultants, but their is none more realistic than that of the newest documentary-ish feature film “Apollo 11”. 

While the space exploration has been beautifully and intensely captured in biopics from Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13” or Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in “First Man”. This newest feature film and documentary “Apollo 11” stars a real A-lister, this time there is no actor portraying him, “Apollo 11” stars the real flesh and blood of astronaut Neil Armstrong. There is no modern visual effects, no built sets or paid actors, just the real sense of genuine awe that came from mankind creating a monumental moment in American history. 

CNN Films had approached documentarian filmmaker Todd Douglas Miller in 2016 to make a film for the 50th anniversary (July 2019) of the Apollo 11 landing. At the time, Miller was just completing his film “The Last Steps”, a documentary about Apollo 17. Miller’s film “Apollo 11” has been released by Universal Pictures, the studios behind both “Apollo 13” and “First Man”. 

“Apollo 11” is made up of straight archival footage from the lead up, execution, and journey of the Apollo 11 mission that would take them to the moon and back, with it’s crew of three: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Director and editor Todd Douglas Miller nixes the interviews from the people who were there, no after the fact reflections on how it happened, what it felt like or what it all meant. His film is newly discovered footage from the NASA vaults that have been seen for the first time in 50 years. With exquisite footage presented in incredible clarity taken from 65 and 70mm film footage of the Apollo 11 mission. Miller also adds the occasional rudimentary visual graphics to explain the exact maneuver the Apollo crew exacted. 

Along with nixing the traditional approach of containing interviews, Miller also has no narration. Keeping the films commentary, through the words of newsmen who were chronicling the events as they happened, which is mostly the voice of the ultimate anchorman, Walter Cronkite. The filmmakers also fills the films audio with an imposing 11,000 hours of newly discovered audio recordings. “Apollo 11” stays in the moment, giving us archival footage in both video and audio that was taken or recorded in July 1969. The footage, the way the camera flows and how it’s all edited within minutes of the opening you’ll be convinced your watching a feature film. It’s footage that you just can’t re-create for a film. This is the real thing! 

Miller’s team used the facilities of Final Frame, a post-production firm in New York City, to make high-resolution digital scans of all of the footage NASA found. Specialized climate-controlled vans were used to transport the archival material to and from the National Archives in Washington, DC. Among the audio recordings were 30-track tapes of voice recordings at every Mission Control station. 

Ben Feist, a Canadian software engineer, wrote software to improve the fidelity of the newly available audio. British archivist and film editor Stephen Slater, who had synchronized audio recordings with 16 mm Mission Control footage in earlier projects, performed the task of synchronizing the audio and film together. The production team was even able to identify “Mother Country”, a song by folk musician John Stewart, within a lunar module voice recording. The song was subsequently featured in the film. 

The movie opens with a stunning shot that can only be seen on the big screen of a worker walking alongside a giant vehicle carrying the massive space craft, which I learned weighs six and a half million pounds and is three hundred feet tall. From there we see the mechanisms locking into place, crew members trading updates over walkie talkies and getting everything ready for the big blast off.  It’s in these small moments that you’re able to marvel in the stupendousness of the endeavor. 

Miller constructs a clear three act set-up by stitching together footage of what really happened. His impressive attention to every detail, whether big or small leaves no stone unturned. While much of what happened has been taught in history classes and discussed in other documentaries, you will never feel more part of the mission than you will With this film. 

You can feel the stress from inside mission control, watching and listening in real time as workers attempt to fix small but what is potentially cataclysmic issues as the astronauts are gearing up to board in only a few short minutes or reporting lowering fuel levels as the crew sets down on the moon. There are literal ticking clocks in the corner of the screen, with it’s intensity levels ramping up as the seconds pass by. 

There is no twist ending here, we know how the movie ends. Because of the intensity of the real footage you still find yourself catching your breath.  Witnessing the three men hurtling down from space into the pacific ocean in the remainder of their craft, with a speech edited into the footage given by John F. Kennedy emphasizing how monumental of an undertaking the mission was. “Apollo 11” succeeds, it’s masterful, gripping and emotionally arresting. “Apollo 11” is like a time machine that gives you a front-row seat to one of American history’s most monumental achievements. 

Miller carries us through the eight-day journey, through every operation so we understand what is happening from the moment they blast off to their splashdown. Miller takes a lengthy operation and condenses the narrative into an 80 minute feature, moving at brisk pace.

Miller’s direct cinema approach is mesmerizing and “Apollo 11”, is a must-see for anyone who considers themselves a fan of the space program. The new footage makes you feel like you’ve hopped into a time machine and are watching the mission straight from the control room 50 years ago. “Apollo 11” is a visual archive of the achievement humanity made all of those years ago.

GRADE: ★★★★★ (5 out of 5)



About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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