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Apollo 11: a space odyssey

28 June, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Buzz Aldrin in Apollo 11

Directed by Todd Douglas Miller
Certificate PG

WHEN John F Kennedy in 1961 told the world that within the decade, a man would walk on the Moon, he seemed to be doing more than just laying out a bold aim for Nasa to chase as part of Cold War one-upmanship. He was making a statement about shared endeavours, about knowing no barriers to human ingenuity, and about our innate sense of endless curiosity.

The voyage of Apollo 11 still remains one of the most compelling tales ever told, whether through the medium of New Journalism – Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff – or feature films inspired by the idea of heading to our nearest planet (Sam Rockwell’s sci-fi horror Moon springs to mind).

It is 50 years since the first Moon landing and you may feel that there is little more to add to the story of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins. Not so – this documentary, which dispenses with any narration and has very little scene-setting music – manages to bring alive the enormity of what Nasa was attempting, and does so in an aesthetically beautiful way.

Drawing on contemporary footage, Miller has spliced and edited the material to create a narrative arc that means you cannot help but feel the tension that gripped the world during those crucial days in July 1969 – despite the fact we know how it ended.

The look and feel of this film, a cinematic portrayal of “Americana”, such a globally recognisable concept after the Second World War, leaps off the screen. From the machines that look they were taken from the set of Dr No to the uniformly buzz-cut, white-shirted, tie-wearing men in the Nasa space centre control room, the sightseers and their station wagons, waiting for the rocket to blast off, the astronauts suits… everything is picture perfect.

But above all, you get a sense of the bravery of the three people who went up into space in a little tin can and the hundreds of researchers and designers and engineers who made their trip possible.

Next to this is the idea that in a country that at the time was riddled with political violence and skulduggery, cleaved in two by the Vietnam War, that there is but one human race inhabiting just one world is an extremely powerful counter image to the reality of American government.

This remarkable documentary illustrates this. A joy from countdown to splash down.


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