Comprised solely of over 10,000 hours of archive footage, the documentary Apollo 11 tells the story of the 1969 moon landing in breath-taking detail.
It’s the scale of the thing that wows, from the first shot of the gigantic launch pad and rocket being towed into position, to the banks of huge computers, rows of horn-rimmed NASA boffins, crowds of watchers and, finally, to the leap of imagination.
News reel voice over recounts the solemnity of the event while a NASA control commentator guides us through every step of the operation – the fact that it goes according to plan is what makes it, ironically, all the more tense. This voice keeps saying what’s going to happen, a narration delivered with a preternatural American confidence, like a magician’s patter.
The film finds a camera angle for everything. Not a Super 8, home movie or 70mm lens remains unscoured for another view on this epochal event. The CCTV footage of NASA’s little cameras around the launch pad is thrilling, particularly when a valve leak is discovered as the astronauts are en route to the craft.
Audio is equally amazing – recordings of all the conversations between Houston and the Eagle, some momentous, others merely courteous: “Good morning, Apollo…” Another patches us through to the the President in the White House.
Directed by Todd Douglas Miller, this film is spellbinding, compressing the 8 days that, I imagine, had the world rapt, into a couple of hours of riveting rivets, hurtling up and then back. The footage from the Eagle itself, from a camera strapped to its outside as the lunar surface approaches is magnificent, visually and technically.
I guess that’s what we’re marvelling at here and what the film is testament to – a collaborative approach. It’s a jingoistic piece, of course, celebrating a triumph of Americana, a more innocent time, perhaps, with none of the cynicism or hindsight that crept into Damien Chazelle’s First Man feature film last year.
It’s a film that glories in the technological achievement, in the smooth design and analogue science of it all, in the choreography of effort and the poetry of space. It’s one of the most beautifully-assembled, handsomely-crafted documentaries I’ve ever seen.