DIRECTOR: TODD DOUGLAS MILLER | RELEASE DATE: JUNE 28TH
The Apollo 11 moon mission will always hold a vice-like fascination for us earthlings, even though, let’s face it, we pretty much know it off by heart through the many re-tellings, most recently in the Neil Armstrong biopic First Man (2018). So be prepared for a pleasant shock: this 50th Anniversary documentary from director Todd Douglas Miller renders the events of those few days in July 1969 anew – and startlingly so, through his access to a massive cache of previously unreleased film languishing, Indiana Jones-style, in the vaults. Who knew?
From the opening, gob-smacking images of the Saturn V inching its way to destiny atop the humongous, Gerry Anderson-esque NASA crawler transporter to the final footage of the three victorious astronauts goofing around as they wind their way home by road in their retro-cool Airstream quarantine unit, Apollo 11 peels away the familiar and replaces it with astonishingly new perspectives. Often this comes in shimmering widescreen 65mm, beautifully captured on the ground by a team of NASA staff, who must have been wilting under the weight of the cameras. You’ll count the shots you’ve seen before on one hand - even the famous moment of Neil Armstrong making his “One. Small. Step” appears from a new angle, as filmed by Aldrin from inside the Lunar Excursion Module. The build-up to the launch, fore-fronting footage of the thousands of Americans who camped out under a clear summer sky to witness it, evokes Terrance Mallick at his most elemental; a great sea of bouffants and cigars, squinting through the heat haze to the distant Pad 39A in silent awe of the giant science at play. These remarkable scenes will stay with you the most. The approach is sparse: there is no voiceover, no talking heads appear and on-screen text is limited to identifying the key players and a few tasteful info-graphics. Music is also used sparingly but when it comes, it’s in great slabs of industrial synth from Matt Morton that further shocks Apollo 11 into the new. Like a dance-off between the momentous and the mundane, it always returns to the nervous faces and candid, fly-on-the-wall chatter of mission control staff, their regulation short-sleeves mass-ranked against endless IMB punch-card consoles. Running a lean 90 minutes, Apollo 11’s bold focus on the key emotional stages of the mission takes you back through a story you thought you knew in a way that is utterly immersive. The past has rarely been so present.