Apollo 11 | Todd Douglas Miller | March 1, 2019
The story of man’s first step on the moon is a fairly familiar one. We’ve all heard the famous transmissions, and we’ve seen the grainy footage of Neil Armstrong’s legendary “giant leap”. With the Neil Armstrong biopic First Man last October, I wondered how a documentary about the Apollo 11 mission would resonate in 2019. The mission to the moon seems like a distant memory that, while being an obviously monumental achievement, sometimes feels out of reach. In 1969, millions of people huddled around their radios, televisions, and telescopes to get a glimpse of the historic voyage. Everyone can agree that the moment in time was unparalleled. What makes this Apollo 11 documentary so amazing is that it brings you back in time. You feel like you’re watching the spectacular voyage take place for the first time.
Footage from the Apollo 11 mission has been shown in countless television programs, films, and now on YouTube. The footage presented in director Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary might be the best footage ever compiled of the Apollo 11 mission. The filmmakers have created something truly unique in the presentation here. Restored 65mm and 70mm footage of the Apollo 11 mission is presented in high definition. The images are truly astounding. It’s some of the best footage restoration I’ve ever seen. Miller and his team combed through 11,000 hours of audio, which they restored and synced up to footage of the NASA control rooms at Cape Canaveral and Houston. Over 60 NASA mission personnel are captured in crystal clear audio and video for the first time while the 8-day mission played out.
The first thing that popped out about the newly restored footage is how real it looks. You literally feel like you could walk through the screen. The helicopter shots of Cape Canaveral, showing millions of onlookers before the shuttle takes off, is breathtaking. The clarity of the images is worthwhile alone to see Apollo 11 on the biggest screen possible. Even watching Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins put on their space suits is surreal. The images look better than some films that are released today. It is truly a testament to how much hard work the Apollo 11 film crew put into this documentary.
One of the best aspects of this new footage used in Apollo 11 is that it adds a great deal of humanity to the entire mission. You can hear and see the crew members joking around with Mission Control. You can feel the tension in the control room during certain points of the mission. During the entire run time, there are no talking heads. No interviews. No opinions. It’s the entire mission, condensed into a tight 90 minutes. It makes for a much more engaging and personal story of the mission to the moon. You’re hearing and seeing, first-hand, what it was like to be there. You truly feel the scale of just how many people worked day and night to make this mission a success. It brings the entire process into perspective.
The footage of the liftoff and landing are spectacular as well. A lot of it I had never seen before. To be honest, I wasn’t aware they had so many cameras on the Apollo 11 shuttle and lunar module. Watching the 3 to 4-minute landing sequence in real time from a camera on the lunar module was as thrilling and stress-inducing as anything I’ve seen in a film recently. I couldn’t and didn’t want to take my eyes off the screen for a second. Once again, the footage feels entirely new and fresh, thanks to the National Archives footage that has been restored. According to Robert Pearlman, the historical consultant that worked on the film, “The fact that these new reels were discovered by coincidence sitting in the National Archives so close to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing makes for a wonderful discovery, giving us the ability to celebrate it properly.”
Apollo 11 is the rare documentary that makes you feel like you are truly a part of history. It reaches out to you and connects with you almost instantly until the very end. It’s one of the best documentaries ever made and a stunning achievement in editing and film restoration. I can’t wait to watch it again.