24 July 1969. A date forever etched into history books as the day mankind took its first steps on the Moon.
Given that I was born in the 90s, I’m far too young to have been able to bear witness to the Moon landing in person. Up until now, I’ve only ever experienced the historic achievement through old black and white primary and secondary records. Though this was satisfactory for my curious young mind, I was incredibly excited to learn of Todd Douglass Miller’s Apollo 11 documentary film, which arrives in cinemas later this month.
Apollo 11 is a documentary film which follows the events of the Moon landing mission of the same name. It documents the events leading up to, during, and after the monumental spaceflight using only archival footage. Unlike other documentaries, the film does not utilise narration nor interviews, focused solely on restored footage to portray the event. This provides audiences with a feeling of experiencing the Moon landing live and in person.
Miller utilised this technique to great effect, making it feel like the Moon landing was happening for the first time. The only voices we hear throughout the film are those of the NASA operators and the legendary astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.
The film is broken down into three parts: prior to launch, during the mission, and the return back home. The film begins three hours prior to the momentous launch and audiences are given a fascinatingly close look at the sheer amount of preparation the crew and astronauts go through prior to the big moment. The first twenty or so minutes of the film are incredibly tense. Despite knowing the outcome, I could feel my anxiety levels rising during these moments. Then when the countdown to launch began, and I was on the edge of my seat.
What made the entire ordeal feel gripping, despite my knowing of what is about to take place, is the fact that everything I witnessed on screen felt so genuine and real. There was no epic fanfare, fancy video editing, or any other film tropes typical of this genre. Instead, what I saw was raw and wholeheartedly real, from the expressions on the astronauts’ faces as they entered the capsule, down to the variety of shots of crowds camping out at lookout points, waiting for the launch to take place, making an outing of it with their families and friends.
Even though rocket lift offs are something I’ve seen throughout my life through videos and other footage, the moment Saturn V took off the ground gave me an undiluted feeling of relief, having had a great deal of tension built up.
The film continues with a depiction of the subsequent voyage across space to our nearest celestial body. It’s worth noting that all the footage and audio used in this documentary has been painstakingly remastered and is a treat to the eyes and ears. This sensory feat is further evident upon the team’s landing on the Moon.
We’ve all seen the famous photo of Aldrin standing on the Moon, but it’s even better to watch Armstrong and Aldrin actually move about with such clarity. It’s also interesting to hear the story of Michael Collins, who was left in the Columbia capsule alone, circling the Moon as he waited for his crew members to complete their task on the Moon’s surface. Most of us know full well of Aldrin and Armstrong’s achievements but it was finally shown in Apollo 11 that Collins’ role in the mission was of utmost importance as without him, the crew may not have returned home.
The third ‘act’ of the film followed the aftermath of mankind’s greatest feat. Thanks to NASA, the National Archives and Records Administration, viewers were treated to brilliant reaction shots of the Apollo 11 crew, their families, and the rest of the world as the three American heroes landed safely back home on Earth. One thing that I was completely unaware of is that all three of the astronauts were immediately quarantined for twenty-one days upon landing. It was quite a sight to see the relief on their faces once released from their isolation and the heroic welcome that ensued was incredible.
Apollo 11 is an amazing documentary that I can see consumed not just in our lifetime but also by future generations to come. The crisp clear visuals accompanied by simple narration is a brilliant roller-coaster ride of feelings that will leave you wanting to watch it all over again. The entire film was a brilliant testament to the immense level of detail, practice, preparation and most importantly courage, that led to one of the most important moments in history.