VOD film review: Apollo 11
Ivan Radford | On 10, Nov 2019
Director: Todd Douglas Miller
Cast: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, Deke Slayton
Watch Apollo 11 online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
This year has had no shortage of films and TV shows about the 1969 moon landings, but Apollo 11, touching down on VOD several months after the anniversary, is one of the best on offer. Where some documentaries have zoomed out to look at the wider political or social context, Todd Douglas Miller’s movie zooms right up close to give us a sense of what’s it like to land on the moon.
Miller’s remarkable feat is to bring history bang up-to-date, a quest that’s elevated by his use of never-before-used colour footage of the whole build-up to the landing. That powers this thrilling recreation, but what’s crucial is that it’s not a reconstruction, and Miller builds everything else around it to reinforce that fact. Right from the period Universal logo that opens affairs, authenticity is the name of the game, and so we have no voice-over commentary or even talking heads, instead leaving us to follow events through ourselves. When communications have a blackout on re-entry for 17 seconds, so do we. When people are gathering across America to watch things unfold with news broadcasts providing the briefest of explanations, we do the same thing.
The result is a riveting ride through the pages of a history book, turning those well-thumbed accounts into something wondrous again, reminding us how impossible, how unthinkable and how unlikely the whole success was – and simultaneously how smart and competent the men and women of NASA were, as they worked together to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.
Brief montages give us a sense of Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin’s lives, but it’s the camaraderie of the trio as Neil takes his one small step that really gives us a feeling we know them. Neil’s descriptions of the lunar surface, as he tries to take samples under instruction from Buzz, are awe-inspiring to hear and see, and the journey home is brought to life with a vivid immediacy.
It’s a majestic display of editing and visual storytelling, an act of preservation and resurrection in one that renders the whole endeavour in crisp, high-definition detail – an astonishing achievement guided by an unseen hand to soaring heights.