Blu-ray/DVD review: “Apollo 11” (2019)

“Apollo 11” (2019)


Running time: 93 minutes

Directed by: Todd Douglas Miller

Featuring: Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins

Neil Armstrong: “One small step for a man… one giant leap for mankind.”

Released on Blu-ray/DVD is the documentary that hit all the right buttons last year in the recently found footage that made “Apollo 11” (2019)  a must see for many, harkening back to a time when the entire world looked to the stars, dreaming of what we might achieve not only in the short term but that would mean for the future of all mankind. 

The past five or six years or so has been excellent for the documentary genre, not only on streaming or DVD but also in cinemas, which is a trend that goes against what many people may have expected. However I find this to be exactly what should be expected especially with the concentration of so-called ‘fake news’ that now exists on the internet, coupled with what has been coming from the White House under the Trump Presidency. In fact there was a thought that cinematic documentaries might be a thing of the past especially with the success as well as saturation of Disney-fied blockbusters invading multiplexes, in fact audiences have been flocking to cinemas to seek out stories about real people making real differences in times and places where many others have been marginalised and made powerless by the people in charge in their respective times. Some of the great, as well as critically received, not forgetting making money documentaires at the box office are: “Wont you be my neighbour?” (2018), “Three Identical Strangers” (2018), “Jane” (2018),  “RBG” (2018), and my personal favourite “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” (2017) with so many more. What this says about audiences is that they will seek out true stories told in the relative first person that are not only inspiring but are direct counter programming to the politics of the day as well as the lies that are being produced by a President who is not only artificial but hate fuelled. My belief as a fan of documentaries is that this genre will only gain in popularity, with the coming years being a boon as well as revealing the importance of truth in the media as well as the importance of researching decisions made by the electorate. It is no surprise that the rise in fake news, Donald Trump, racism and may other hate fuelled elements has been answered by artists creating documentaries that prove there can be positive outcomes when people choose to buck the system as well as believing in others, differences, freedom and most of all, discussion. 

“Apollo 11” focuses on, as you would expect, the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, the first spaceflight from which men walked on the Moon. The film consists solely of archival footage, including 70 mm filmpreviously unreleased to the public, and does not feature narration, interviews or modern recreations.

Director and editor Todd Douglas Miller tells this epic story omitting any third person interviews as well as the expected vintage news clips that you might see in a documentary of this genre. Miller did get access to previously-unseen archival footage and previously-unheard audio recordings, and synced them to create a very present feeling which helps audiences not only identify with the principals but also feel part of the action. Unlike many other projects about the space race that always feature  Walter Cronkite, we never see him him but only hear that recognisable voice.

The reason this footage even exists in its present form with an aspect ration of 2:1, twice as wide as it is tall, is that there was going to be a theatrical documentary that was ultimately abandoned, which was a shame for audiences all those decades ago, but lets present viewers bathe in something truly unique from a bygone era. When it became clear that the documentary fell apart as a commercial release, NASA took over and pointed the cameras at the technicians, construction crew and spectators, capturing the mundane but crucial context around the astronauts’ feats.

The score by Matt Morton who has scored many documentaries, here has his work cut out for him using an in period analog-era Moog synthesizer which were in abundance at the time. What is telling about the score is that it doesn’t really sound like the 1960s but more like something from the 1980s, which is all the trend right now. Even though it hits the mark of 80s nostalgia it still sounds incredible especially on a good home cinema.

Make no mistake this is an intricately designed film that offers so much to the viewer that it is a crime more audiences have not seen it, either in theatres or at home. There is no doubt that this is one of the cinematic experiences of the year which is saying something considering it is a documentary. But this just illustrates how far the genre has come in a few short years. There were times when this genre was treated as a curio or a second class citizen but it has now become a staple of cinema as well as making money at the box office, especially considering the budgets involved. “Apollo 11” has to take its place at the very top of its genre especially when analysing the creativity involved in its production as well as the promise of what is to come.

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