Like many people old enough to remember the Apollo 11 moon landing in June 1969, the thing that resonates with me most is the palpable air of excitement that gripped the general public as three American astronauts prepared to attempt the unthinkable. Their mission? To fly to the moon, walk around on it for a while and then travel safely back to their families on earth. Could such a thing possibly be done? And what were their chances of survival?
This documentary, compiled entirely from news footage of the period and including some never-before-seen material, sets out to to chronicle that story. Compiled by Todd Douglas Miller, with a pulsing electronic soundtrack by Eric Milano, this is an absorbing and eye-opening account of a famous event that actually manages to achieve the impossible, creating a real sense of suspense – remarkable when you consider that we all know the story’s outcome.
Looking at the footage now, what comes across is the sheer clunkiness of the operation. As Neil Armstrong attempts to pilot a landing module that appears to be held together with lengths of gaffa tape and blobs of chewing gum, the sheer recklessness of the enterprise is absolutely staggering. Also, I am astonished at the immensity of the operation, the stock footage revealing scores and scores of white-shirted, chain-smoking crewcut men (and they are, nearly all of them, men) sitting at primitive screens, each operator charged with one tiny detail of the overall mission.
And finally there’s the sense of an entire nation, holding its concerted breath and gathering in droves to watch a giant rocket ship blast off into the unknown. Amazing to think that it was all achieved with equipment that marshalled considerably less computing power than the phone in my pocket.
This won’t be for everyone. Some will long for in-depth interviews with the protagonists, a more human angle to the story – and I have to confess that for some of the dialogue coming in from outer space via primitive speaker systems, subtitles would undoubtedly be a useful addition.
But as an account of one of mankind’s most mind-boggling achievements, Apollo 11 is well worth your attention. And to those who still insist that the whole enterprise was a complex sham, secretly filmed by Stanley Kubrick – if this doesn’t make you change your mind, then frankly, nothing ever will.