Apollo 11

 

            I've never said this before about any movie, but the thing that impressed me the most was the editing.

            Apprently there exists a bunch of file footage documenting the launching of the first manned flight to the moon, from behind-the-scenes preparation to actual footage of Neil Armstrong's famous “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  And, of course, the successful return of Armstrong (the commander), Aldrin (who piloted the lunar module), and Collins (who flew the spaceship), from lunar launch to Pacific Ocean splashdown.

            It would have been easy to get mired in a bunch of technical detail, but Director Todd Douglas Miller supplies the viewers with simple line-drawing graphics that are easy for non-scientific people to understand.  It is impressive to see the array of technical specialists sitting there in the control room, with headsets and operating manuals and 50-year-old computer systems, but it would have been distracting to try to explain everybody's part in the colossal project.  So we get only the names of a few guys in the titled positions (there are no women in this group), and even those are easily forgotten.  The rest of the anonymous army of technicians remains like a super-efficient colony of ants, each with a specific task known only to them, but a mystery to the rest of us.  (And while we're on the subject of inclusivity, people of color are notably absent as well.  Not to belabor the sexist language.)

            Yes, 50 years later, the engineer-types seem remarkably uniform, even semi-military in personal appearance and dress code, whether or not strictly imposed.  Ah, but the monumental feat these guys accomplished is mind-blowing.  Considering all that could have gone wrong, nothing did.  It all went off without a glitch.  An incredible confluence of precise planning and perfect execution.  It feels so real that we even get to hear the static-y communication between Houston and the astronauts.  Everyone's always calm.  Matter-of-fact.  There's the occasional jest, but it's light and quick.  This is serious business, because everybody knew that they were making history.

            The unmistakably sonorous voice of Walter Cronkite provides the occasional overdubbing.  We don't get a lot of detail about the personal lives of the astronauts, just glimpses of their families, awaiting them upon their emergence from their “quarantine” afterwards.  Director Douglas carefully constructs the clips so that they take us in chronological sequence, from the preparation before the launch through the takeoff and into orbit.  He skips over several days of the space travel, so as to emphasize the dramatic landing and unforgettable moonwalk.  After just a few clips from the return trip, we have the dramatic re-entry and soft landing in the middle of the big, wide Pacific Ocean.  Nicely done.

            It's never boring.  It moves us along the narrative in such a way as to let the drama speak for itself.  There's no pandering to the audience, and no over-hype.  The story has a power all its own, and Director Douglas is skilled enough to let us see it for ourselves.  It's well worth the time.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association