Next month will see the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and in commemoration, two documentary films have been made: Armstrong, which comes out next month, and Apollo 11, which was just released in the UK. I had to travel some distance to see this film as it wasn’t showing at my local cinema (yet somehow they still found room for a documentary about Diego Maradona); I ended up going to the Trafford Centre outside Manchester as it was recommended I see it in IMAX. It was absolutely worth it.
Apollo 11 differs from other documentary films I’ve seen in that there is no narration, not even in the form of contemporary interview clips. Instead, the film presents archival footage – some of which has never been released to the public before – with the accompanying audio consisting of voice recordings from the time. These are allowed to do most of the explaining, assisted only by captions, simple diagrams of spacecraft manouvers, and countdown clocks sometimes being used for dramatic effect. (The one thing I could find to complain about with the film was that Flight Director Gene Kranz’s last name was misspelled as ‘Krantz’ in the captions.) This approach gives a pleasant purity to the film, allowing what you see and hear to speak for itself. While the quality of the footage naturally varies depending on what sort of film was being used, the best of it is so well restored that it’s hardly distinguishable from modern visuals.
The material is wonderfully edited together to give a full picture of the flight and everyone involved: from the astronauts in their cramped spacecraft; to everyone sitting at the seemingly endless rows of consoles in the Launch Control Centre; to the crowds of spectators watching the launch in awe, the glow of the ascending rocket reflected in their sunglasses. Even space buffs will get something new to think about from what is presented; for example, in the hours before launch, it is announced that technicians are working to fix a leaking valve on the rocket – and even though I obviously knew how everything would go, part of me still felt a little tension. I also liked how the film shows what Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did on their moonwalk besides collecting rocks and erecting the flag, as well as taking time to examine the isolation of Michael Collins in the command module.
Watching the film in IMAX definitely allows for maximum appreciation visually, both in terms of scale – particularly when looking at the Saturn V rocket at the beginning – and detail; for example, when the command module Columbia moves in to dock with the lunar module Eagle, you can see Eagle‘s panels ripple. When it comes to sound, obviously the big moment is the Saturn V launch – and when those engines ignite in an IMAX theatre, you don’t just hear it; you feel it. It’s so immersive that when the astronauts are ascending the launch tower, you feel like you’re right there in the elevator with them. The techno-style music is used effectively, such as how it gradually slows down when Apollo 11 is braking to enter lunar orbit.
Apollo 11 is a fantastic way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing – no matter what your level of interest in the subject, you should get something out of this film, and do see it in IMAX if you can. Rating: 5/5!