Apollo 11 premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
The Moon is often seen as a banality, as something that happens to hang from the sky and peer down like a giant white eye. But, when considered properly, it's a fascinating presence - attracting plenty of mythologies over thousands of years: signifying birth, death, madness, and menstrual cycles.
In the 1960s, American earthlings decided to fly there: risking death and birthing a new era in human history. In 1961, John F Kennedy promised the Moon would be reached by the end of the decade; in 1969, his posthumous promise was fulfilled.
Apollo 11 – a new documentary about the historic 1969 mission to the Moon – follows that eight-day journey, step by step, hour by hour. Director and editor Todd Douglas Miller unfolds the journey like a three-act story: taking off, landing, coming back. There are even some unsettling conflicts, as a hydrogen leak is adjusted hours before the launch.
The Saturn V rocket prepares to launch
Everyone knows that the famed astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins survive the trip, but Miller installs a frightening doubt. And judging by nervous attitudes of the time, that anxiety was common. There's a genuine fear for their survival.
Miller perused over 11,000 hours of footage taken from the time – including 70mm colour reels that are still pristine and glorious. If it weren’t for the clothes and the cars, these shots would be indistinguishable from present-day cinematography, like it's a Christopher Nolan film.
And these images can be furiously powerful. When the Saturn V rocket takes off, a close angle captures the engines as the terrifying fire blasts out. It’s a violent, beautiful sight.
There are some slow moments in space, predictably, which makes the story lag despite a succinct 93-minute runtime. But it’s not long before the vast beauty of outer space sweeps those empty moments away, creating many poignant scenes.
It's hard not to feel emotional when looking out the rocket's window seats. Seeing the Earth from thousands of miles away inspires a note of the numinous as wonder and vastness come together in a panoramic display.
When the astronauts reach the Moon, it’s like landing on the surface of a dream: grey/brown desolation leading to a limitless black. Apollo 11 is one of the few documentaries that earns a wide-screen cinema viewing, where the respective darknesses can intermingle for a wholly immersive experience.
Landing on the Moon still feels like an impossible feat. Looking out, watching that big ominous sphere – how could a human once have walked upon it? Miller crafts a hypnotic, collaborative quest to that floating eye in the sky and captures, up close, its mythical awe.
|What||Apollo 11 film review|
28 Jun 19 – 28 Jun 20, TIMES VARY
|Price||£determined by cinemas|
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