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Review: Apollo 11

Apollo 11
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Synopsis: Never-before-seen footage and audio recordings take you straight into the heart of NASA's most celebrated mission as astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin embark on a historic trip to the moon.

Review: There are plenty of space movies in the world that try to make adventuring beyond Earth seem like a hell of a time filled with laser guns, hyper-blasting spaceships and alien creatures that run family restaurants just like folks do here. Taking in all the spectacular action and alien planets it’s easy to forget that all that’s needed to inspire awe in the stars above is already there in the relatively recent history of mankind, lived in through the eyes of space-venturing heroes. While that has been beautifully, intensely captured in biopics like APOLLO 13 and FIRST MAN, the documentary APOLLO 11 proves you don’t need A-list actors or modern visual effects to feel the immense impact and sense of genuine awe that came from mankind breaking its Earth-bound shackles and blasting off into the unknown.

Made up of nothing but archival footage from the lead up, execution, and journey of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins (and the occasional rudimentary visual graphics to explain the exact maneuver the Apollo crew exacted) director and editor Todd Douglas Miller nixes the interviews from the “people who were” and the no doubt endlessly repeated stories they have told. Instead, his movie goes beyond what a normal documentary presents, allowing viewers to be swept away by the enormity of the spacecraft, the truly miraculous launching of it into space, and even the mundanity of the crew’s work on the ground keeping everything running from their cramped, windowless command station.

The movie opens with a seemingly futuristic visual of a worker walking alongside a giant vehicle carrying the massive craft, the design and size of the wheels making it look like something out of AVATAR. From then on, its lots of scenes of mechanisms locking into place, crew members trading updates over walkies and simple visuals of getting everything ready for the big blast off.  It’s in these small, drawn-out moments that you’re able to marvel in the utter stupendousness of the endeavor, and in large part that’s thanks to the assembling and editing of the footage by Miller, who constructs a clear beginning, middle and end by introducing us to a story that seems too larger-than-life to have really happened. But it did, and the impressive attention to every detail big and small leaves no stone unturned and totally unfiltered. Sure, much of what happened has been taught in history classes and discussed in less astounding documentaries, but you will never feel more part of the adventure than you will here.

This includes the feeling the incredible stress from inside the control room – watching and listening in real time as workers attempt to fix small but potentially cataclysmic issues as the astronauts are gearing up to board in only a few short minutes or reporting back lowering fuel levels as the crew sets down on the moon. These literal ticking clocks in the corner of the screen are commonplace here, with intensity levels ramping up as the seconds pass by nearing the next landing, blasting off, or coming together of complex machinery while hurtling through space. No movie has captured the sheer beauty of the exactness of space operations, possibly since Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

Complementing this pitch-perfect editing and attention to detail is a score from Matt Morton, who in using simple techniques crafts a score that deserves a place alongside greats like INTERSTELLAR, GRAVITY and FIRST MAN. Ticking clocks are matched with heavy, propulsive thuds, and as the seconds pass by the sounds intensify and send shivers up the spine. Again, while the information in front of us is nothing new the music – with its ability to emphasize the wonder of space travel with an ethereal scope and get the heart racing with pulsating progression – makes watching the footage feel as energetic and unique as the boldest of space adventures.

Balancing the arresting visuals of the spacecraft and astronauts in action with the day-to-day procedure of the men on the ground is not always an easy task. Emotional highs of watching the rocket blast off in long, sustained takes can be somewhat brought down with the heavy focus on the men on the ground with their computers and headsets. Still, there’s still an appreciation to be had in seeing the smallest of details factor into the journey. Three times or more the heart rates of the three astronauts are stated, with Armstrong often the most nervous, and Aldrin about as calm and cool as a guy nicknamed “Buzz” should be. One minute you’re wondering if something will happen, and then the clock starts ticking and it’s all hands on deck.

As the movie ends – and you catch your breath after witnessing the three men hurtling down from space into the ocean in the remainder of their craft – the words of John F. Kennedy are played before the credits roll, emphasizing how monumental of an undertaking going to the moon would be only a few years before. In hearing his words the movie’s final moments are just as inspirational as everything before it was gripping, and while depicting history as it is with no frills can sometimes lack the excitement of Hollywood fare, when APOLLO 11 succeeds it's in masterful, gripping and emotionally arresting fashion, acting like a time machine that gives you a front-row seat to the discovery of fire.

Source: JoBlo.com

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