“APOLLO 11” — 4 stars — Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins; probable PG for some intense sequences; running time: 93 minutes; Sundance Film Festival
PARK CITY — As the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing approaches later this summer, moviegoers have been blessed with an abundance of related riches. Last year, Damien Chazelle’s “First Man” told the story of the first man to set foot on the lunar surface, and now, a new documentary is re-creating the tale in a new light.
Featured at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Todd Douglas Miller’s “Apollo 11” is an inspiring and mesmerizing 90-minute re-creation of the historic mission, constructed out of footage shot during the monumental event.
You must see this movie.
The film moves chronologically, eschewing a narrator and letting the footage speak for itself — and there’s plenty of footage to do the talking.
The first thing we see is a massive mobile platform, slowly trucking its way out onto the launch area, dwarfing everything around it as it lugs its 300-foot cargo into position. It’s the first hint of the true scope and scale of the operation, and it only gets better from there.
We're given a comprehensive vision of the proceedings over the next several minutes — made all the more impressive considering the event is happening in 1969 and not in a day when everyone is carrying around a video camera in their pocket. We see intimate detail shots of the rocket, behind-the-scenes footage of the astronauts getting suited up, images of intense engineers in the Kennedy Space Center and rows upon rows of cars and onlookers hoping to catch the event from a safe distance.
The launch itself is a magnificent moment, but the best is still to come. Understandably, once Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins leave Earth’s atmosphere, footage gets a little more scarce, but even the sequences that have to be rebuilt with still images are remarkable.
Miller and his team put “Apollo 11” together over a few years, working closely with representatives from NASA and the National Archives. During the film’s Sundance premiere, Miller admitted it was a passion project, and it shows.
Combined with a droning, Moog-based soundtrack that evokes images of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Apollo 11’s” lack of traditional narration and talking heads only serves to make watching it a more gripping experience. The film feels more like a tone poem, not unlike Brett Morgen’s “June 17th, 1994,” which re-created the circumstances of the infamous O.J. Simpson chase in similar fashion.Comment on this story
Unlike that event, though, “Apollo 11” will leave you feeling moved and inspired and taken aback at what was achieved by so many with so little to work with. As you see still photographs of the lunar module sitting calmly on the moon’s surface while Armstrong and Aldrin go about their business, it’s staggering to look at the admittedly ugly contraption and realize that it managed a 500,000-mile journey to the moon and back.
As of this writing, the final theatrical destination for “Apollo 11” is uncertain. What is certain is that one way or another, you should find a way to see it.
Rating explained:Like the majority of Sundance entries, “Apollo 11” is not rated but at worst would draw a PG for some intense sequences.