Friday Finds: “Apollo 11”

Friday Finds shares a piece of content I’ve recently experienced.

Today’s find: Apollo 11
Genre: Documentary, Feature Film
Origin: CNN Films, Statement Pictures
Find it: Cinemas (mostly art house or specialty)

Apollo 11 movie posterIn this edition of Friday Finds, it’s time to start celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing by seeing Apollo 11. This documentary is an excellent recap of the historic mission solely using original film shot in that period. It’s highly recommended.

The story behind much of the film used is quite interesting. NASA had contracted with a film studio to cover the mission using theatrical, wide-screen 70mm cameras. Never used, this film sat forgotten for over four decades in a NASA storage facility – I keep imaging the warehouse in Indiana Jones – until the documentary crew discovered it.

The use of this large format film provides some segments in Apollo 11 that are of amazing quality. One sequence showing the Saturn V rocket lifting off and clearing the launch gantry is so crisp, it could have been CGI. The segments of the mission itself are supplemented by interesting non-flight sequences. One example is the crowds awaiting lift-off on the shores of Florida near the Kennedy Space Center – which included a dapper Johnny Carson in sports jacket and ascot.

Another choice by the filmmakers is to use historic audio to provide a narration. Walter Cronkite and other news reporters describe different aspects of the flight at an overall level. Recordings from Earth-Apollo transmissions provide insight into flight details. This was fine for someone like me, who lived through the era, or those with a particular interest in the Space Race. But I fear it might be a little thin for younger people not so familiar with the Apollo flights.

Nine Year Old Space Cadet

As a nine-year-old space fanatic in 1969, I had followed every flight as closely as I could. For me, Apollo 11 is a nice reminder of those days. First Man, the biopic about Neil Armstrong released last Fall, was also a worthy reminder of the Space Race. Although it was a bit dry at times, this was perhaps indicative of its subject, who barely raised his blood pressure even during lift-off or the Moon landing.

It’s hard to believe that flight was half a century ago. Or that I’m old enough to remember something half a century ago! Despite the successes (and sacrifices) of the Space Shuttle program, it does seem a great shame that the Moon landing didn’t lead to a more extensive stay on the Moon or other journeys beyond Earth orbit. But it’s a great reminder of what the United States is capable, when enough people and resources are thrown at a problem.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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