Recent years have been unkind to the space program, and more than three decades after the last lunar landing, people are more likely to talk about the Columbia disaster and space junk than the Apollo program that put men on the moon. David Sington's stunning documentary sweeps away the layers of cynicism and familiarity, giving nine men who were there the opportunity to tell their riveting stories.
Sington combines archival NASA footage — some never seen before and all remastered to breathtaking sharpness and clarity — with interviews, breezing through the prelude to the space race with admirable efficiency and clarity so he can get to the heart of the film: the aging astronauts, who flew nine Apollo missions between 1968 and 1972. And to a man, they're articulate, engaging, thoughtful, lively and occasionally surprisingly funny. The men — Jim Lovell, Dave Scott (whose conversation with Sington’s producer, Duncan Copp, inspired the project), Gene Cernan, Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin, John Young (the coolest cucumber in the bunch), Alan Bean, Edgar Mitchell and Harrison Schmitt — are a disparate group, ranging from the stoic to the philosophical to the inevitable joker, Aldrin. His undiminished delight at having been the first man to urinate on the moon may not be especially educational, but it's good for a laugh. And, more importantly, a richly deserved laugh; without solemnity or hucksterism, Sington and his collaborators vividly convey the magnitude of the challenges, physical and psychological, that stood between men and the moon. Every man who went to the moon came back profoundly changed (those who never set foot on the lunar surface as much as those who did) by the experience of seeing the Earth across the almost incomprehensible gulf of space. The self-effacing Neil Armstrong is conspicuous by his absence — Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, declined to participate — but he's mentioned so frequently and with such respect by the others that he might almost be there, and Sington (or some enterprising researcher) dug up a priceless clip of Armstrong's parents on the vintage TV game show I've Got a Secret.
By turns awe-inspiring and deeply human, the film's most breathtaking sequence may be the one in which Sington intercuts footage of people all over the world gathering in front of television sets to watch the Apollo 11 moonwalk. It's a vivid reminder that America's space program, born of rivalry with the Soviet Union, once drew the world together in wonder at what sheer human will and determination could produce. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh