As you may very well know, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing. As such, director Todd Douglas Miller has made Apollo 11, which is almost certainly the closest we’ll get to even remotely approaching the astronauts’ actual experience.
Miller’s masterstroke here is to use entirely contemporaneous footage of the day or so leading up to the launch, the mission itself, and its successful completion. There are no talking heads, no narration recorded at a later date looking back on the events—in fact, nearly 100 percent of what we see and hear was recorded as the endeavor was taking place. NASA apparently documented every minute of what was happening, and Miller’s use of this footage puts us as much in the middle of the action as we can possibly get.
What we see is frankly stunning—there’s plenty from inside Mission Control, but also shots from inside the Apollo craft as it travels in space, from outside the craft as it makes incredibly difficult maneuvers, and of course footage from the moon landing itself. And even though we know pretty much every single move that will happen throughout the course of the mission, Miller and composer Matt Morton inject the film with serious drama. Morton’s music, especially, creates real momentum, and something close to actual suspense.
Apollo 11 owes plenty to another documentary, the also fantastic For All Mankind, but Apollo 11 is truly and singular and extraordinary experience. I couldn’t see it in IMAX, so I made sure to sit in the third row so I could let it envelop me as much as possible. This, I recommend.
Certainly, even a movie as accomplished as Apollo 11 can hardly begin to approximate the transcendent wonder of something like traveling to the moon. But the documentary is awe-inspiring in its own right, and should be treasured.