The moon has never had more attention on our TV screens than, well, 50 years ago, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin led the Apollo 11 mission that first landed humankind on our pale cousin. While the BBC has already dropped its 8 Days: To the Moon and Back, boasting new audio recordings of the lunar mission, Channel 4 has saved its offering for the anniversary weekend itself. The broadcasters’s taken an even more adventurous approach, by attempting to recreate the historic events in real-time in the run-up to the big day.
It’s ambitious, to say the least, and what’s really impressive is that the programme pulls it off, combining two lengthy documentaries with five short films featuring dispatches from the mission as it heads from launch to landing. It’s a multimedia affair, including Twitter, Instagram and YouTube updates, but the broadcast videos are the main meat of the mission, and it’s a dizzying one: the editing of the information and archives by Maya Hawke, Samuel Santana and Chris Nicholls is seamless, managing to stitch together NASA footage, spacecraft video, TV broadcasts and more.
Across the six-day marathon, the programme lets the 112 odd hours from lift-off to touch down unfold as it would have done at the time. By focusing so specifically on that period of time, rather than provide historical context, there’s a tangible sense of excitement in the air, of intrigue and astonishment beaming through the airwaves. We hear about the problems experienced during the launch and the challenges that later followed, as Neil, Buzz and Mike Collins are watched by 500 million people – and we see the news readers trying to capture the global reaction from the ground, with a bated breath than never truly exhales until the very end of the documentary.
It’s just as precarious when they reach the moon, as Neil has to pilot the module manually down to the surface, and the programme recreates that nail-biting suspense by eschewing any talking heads or narration: aside from the excellent, atmospheric music, this is solely made up of things that existed at the time, an approach that immerses us fully in the mission (no adverts are included on All 4, either). It’s gripping viewing, hopping between clips and sources like someone channel surfing, without ever taking their eyes off the monumental voyage. The result removes the knowledge of hindsight and replaces it with an immediate feeling of awe. Inventive and effective filmmaking, this is a wonderful chance to reflect on the moon landing with a fresh and refreshing perspective.
Moon Landing Live is available on All 4 until 19th August 2019.