G, 90 mins.
2019, G, 90 mins.
A documentary directed by Todd Douglas Miller
There are very few films these days that legitimately instill in me a childlike sensation of awe and wonder in their sights and make me feel like I've been thoroughly transported out of my cinema chair and into the events transpiring on screen as an active participant.
Miller's astonishing new documentary, simply titled APOLLO 11, is one of
those decidedly rare breeds of filmgoing experiences that elicited in me
an out-of-body sensory experience.
And yes, there have been many great films that have chronicled
mankind's arduous first journey towards landing on the moon (Damien Chazelle's
masterful FIRST MAN from last year
comes immediately to mind, as does 1989's comparably intoxicating FOR ALL
MANKIND), but none before can hold a candle to what APOLLO 11 awesomely
The key to this
film's success is in its stark simplicity and creative economy.
APOLLO 11 is refreshingly atypical in its documenting of history:
The film is comprised 100 per cent of archival footage, much of it
previously unseen and unreleased 70mm film footage, that was all
painstakingly transported by special climate controlled vans by Miller and
company to state of the art post production facilities in New York, where
the negatives were meticulously and digitally scanned to preserve their
Not only is APOLLO 11's sole usage of preserved historical footage
unique, but the crew also avoided using any narration of any
kind throughout the doc, instead relying on 11, 000 hours of voice
recordings at Mission Control leading into the
manned moon landing on July 20, 1969, as well as a slew of other behind
the scenes chatter with the crew as well.
Miller had the complete cooperation of NASA in this Herculean
The results here
are flat out mesmerizing.
APOLLO 11 builds a tight narrative that chronicles each stage of
the hours leading into NASA finally landing a human being on the moon,
from early prep for the launch, to the mass of spectators on hand to watch
it, to the blast off of the Saturn V rocket, the eventually touching down of
the command capsule on the moon, and all the way to Neil Armstrong and
company leaving the lunar surface and returning back home safely...all
done with actual footage, actual audio recordings, and none of the other
standard and obligatory accoutrements of the doc genre.
There is nothing on screen here that did not come from the late
60s; hell, even the doc's music score was created using only the
technology that was available to composers of 1969.
This astounding attention to detail is what really makes APOLLO 11
proudly stand apart from all other films of its ilk.
I know that far
too many critics (myself included) often overuse the descriptor "immersive"
when it comes to films. Yet,
APOLLO 11 has a startling and immediate sense of immersiveness right from
its inspiring opening shot, featuring unfathomably large, tank-like
vehicles slowly transporting the gargantuan Saturn rocket to its ground
zero blast off point (the 70mm footage also shows humans on the ground
walking beside it, the relative size of ants).
The razor sharp clarity of this nearly fifty year old imagery is a
stunning revelation and is positively breathtaking.
Within a few sort introductory moments of APOLLO 11 I was simply
glued to the screen and transfixed: Watching that Cape Canaveral crawler
move that vessel that would unavoidable send some inordinately brave men
to the moon made me instantly ponder and respect the technological miracle
of the Apollo 11 mission itself, just five decades after human beings
achieved mechanical flight....and all with less sophisticated computer
technology at NASA's grasp than what we now have in our pockets with our
There are so many
unendingly suspenseful moments presented here to revisit with the program,
like Saturn V leaving Earth and into space (shown here from an entirely
new perspective with the unearthed footage).
There's also a grand moment featuring a first person point of view
of the astronauts looking out their capsule window as it burns up upon
re-entry into Earth's atmosphere that's equal parts mesmerizing and
Of course, everyone remembers the televised moment of Armstrong
fist stepping foot on the moon - one of the greatest moments in recorded
history - but APOLLO 11 even manages to show off that instance from a
fresh new angle to make this unparalleled event in the annals of space
travel feel fresh and new again.
The doc also serves up quieter and more intimately rendered moments
as well, like the gathering of spectators at Cape Canaveral and the
unbridled excitement, but eerie silence of the crowd pre-launch.
Everyone with a
pulse walking into a cinema to view APOLLO 11 knows exactly what went down
and how everything turned out.
Yet, the sheer artistic genius of Miller's approach here is that - despite knowing the actual history and chain of events of the moon
landing - he still makes them transcendently powerful, tension
filled, and, well, utterly magical.
All of us have seen rockets, for example, take off before countless
times to the point of it becoming weirdly routine, but APOLLO 11 wisely
reminds viewers that what NASA achieved here was so shockingly unthinkable
and seemingly impossible.
With the immaculately preserved footage shown here - and on the
biggest screen available - Miller's film made me feel like I just watched
a massive rocket soaring off into the heavens for the first time in my
many docs these days come off like sermonizing re-valuated history lessons
that sometimes preach the agendas of their makers, but APOLLO 11 has no such
It's not trying to teach us anything we don't already know about
Instead, it's about viscerally placing us back into history to the
point where it seems like yesterday.
And that's a power that so few films have these days.
Experiencing something incredible familiar in a whole newfound light is not easy. APOLLO 11 plainly lays out the entirety of the steps Armstrong and his crew took towards making his first step on a surface not of this planet, but in the process makes it all seem incredible to behold and absorb again. Most importantly, Miller honors the courageous and intrepid souls that dared to dream the unfathomable and make it happen at whatever cost. APOLLO 11 becomes an inspired, edifying, and wholeheartedly intoxicating celebration of human ingenuity and persistence of technological vision. This film is like a hypodermic needle to the heart that wakes us up out of movie watching lethargy and complacency, and I'm sure it will make many adults that were alive in 1969 feel like wide eyed and stunned kids again while watching and marveling at it. APOLLO 11 is not only one of the best films of 2019, but is also one of the best cinematic experiences about the perils and triumphs of NASA's early days that I've ever seen.