Sunday, 21 July 2019

Review: Apollo 11

Apollo 11
Cert: U / 93 mins / Dir. Todd Douglas Miller / Trailer

I have to admit that I went in pretty much blind for this one (having missed its initial release as it's not important enough for my local, apparently?), and since I tend not to read reviews of films I haven't seen yet. The trailers beforehand were for Playmobil, The Lion King and Racing In The Rain, and I thought 'hang on… is this a documentary for kids?'. Then they showed that Champagne For Wankers advert which only runs in front of grown-ups films, and I realised that the distributors have absolutely no idea who will be watching Apollo 11.

Although here's a clue: it should be everybody.


Apollo 11 is (as you should know and/or have gathered), a documentary about the eponymous space mission which saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon, on 21 July 1969*1, while Michael Collins kept the engine running like the absolute legend he is. Unlike most documentaries, it's a purely historical account with no commentary or retrospective interview footage. The film comprises amazingly restored archive footage and sound recordings*2, with additional (minimalist) illustrative graphics and readouts, sound design by Eric Milano and an immense new score by Matt Morton*3.

With no voiceover to guide the viewer, the events are told through the storytelling skills of an editor (which director Todd Douglas Miller also performs), meticulously assembled and often covering two or more simultaneous strands (and yet it's always perfectly clear). Viewers would be advised to have a general grounding in background knowledge before taking their seats. As great as this is (and it is), Apollo 11 is perhaps not as accessible as it could be to younger audiences taking their first gaze at the heavens (even though it's not like the subject hasn't been tackled elsewhere). While it's a brilliant and immersive snapshot, the film is arguably not designed as a teaching resource, detailing nothing of the painful lead-up to the mission. It's still a dignified and massively respectful tribute, though.


After the triumphant landing, the documentary also covers their journey back to Earth (in admittedly less detail), a key component of JFK's initial pledge. In fact, the film doesn't touch upon that speech until its closing moments, a quiet reminder that Kennedy never lived to see the achievement he inspired.

I left Apollo 11 absolutely humbled that humanity achieved something so extraordinary so long ago, and absolutely appalled that we didn't keep up that momentum and find new ways to go further.

Space Force, Donny? Fucking seriously?
That's from a mid-80s action figure line

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
While they're very different, this will make a great companion-piece with First Man.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you can, do.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
There probably won't be a lot of replay-value in this unless it's your subject anyway, in which case you don't need me to tell you to get it on your shelf at the earliest opporunity.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Todd Douglas Miller has outdone himself.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
Discuss vigorously, I imagine.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Neil Armstrong performed voicework for 2010's Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey, as did James Earl 'Vader' Jones, Hayden 'Anakin' Christensen, Mark 'Luke' Hamill, Sam 'Windu' Jackson, and Tom 'Nute Gunray In The Clone Wars' Kenny.
Which is pretty fantastic company to be in, you have to admit.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 I saw this film a week ago, and while I'd like to tell you I waited seven days to post my review so that it syncs with fifty years to the day since Neil Armstrong's iconic walk, the fact is that I've just been spectacularly poorly organised this week, hence me dropping four posts in a single day and two more still in the pipeline. [ BACK ]

*2 As listeners of the BBC podcast 13 Minutes To The Moon will be aware, much of the radio communication between Apollo 11 and control is static-y gibberish. But at least we have the visuals in the meanwhile. [ BACK ]

*3 And the geek in me loves that Morton's score has been produced only using instruments and effects which existed at the time of the launch. That's dedication to art. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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