★ ★ ★ ★
You’ve seen the moon landing before but you have never seen it like this. To create the eye-popping new documentary “Apollo 11” director Todd Douglas Miller, along with a team of folks from NASA and the National Archives, catalogued and restored 11,000 hours of film that had been languishing in dusty archives since 1969. Just in time fore the mission’s fiftieth anniversary comes a new look at an old subject.
Walter Cronkite, Richard Nixon and a handful of others provide context via archival footage but director Miller doesn’t clutter things with experts or historians. Instead he lets the pictures do the talking. From blast-off to the welcome home parade and astronaut quarantine “Apollo 11” brings the history alive in a way we’ve never seen before. The restored film allows for new angles on old events and a crisp look that is truly out of this world. The footage, much of it shot by camera people who must have had a sense they were capturing images for the ages, is truly cinematic.
It is a technical feat for sure but the restored footage also reveals much of the mission’s humanity. The cleaned-up audio both inside Mission Control and the capsule gives insight to the fellowship and tension that fuelled the ambitious operation. “You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue,” says a NASA staffer to the crew upon re-entry. “We’re breathing again.” It’s an often-overlooked aspect of the Apollo 11 mission and one crucial to the understanding of how a mission this complicated came off without a hitch five decades ago.
“Apollo 11” ignores the Cold War politics of beating the Russians to the moon. Instead it celebrates the achievement, leaving the viewer with a sense of awe at the precise work that created one of the most dramatic events in (out of this) world history.