The stunning new documentary "'Apollo 11" has been released on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital just in time for the 50th anniversary of the ship's moon landing on July 20th. The movie uses recently unearthed and restored film footage to give a perspective that will shock anyone who remembers watching the coverage on television back in 1969.
The film originally screened in IMAX theaters in March, and it's worth making plans to see it that way if your local large-format cinema decides to bring it back. That doesn't mean you shouldn't also watch it as soon as possible on your big screen television.
At the heart of the film is a newly discovered trove of 65mm footage shot for an abandoned MGM film called "Moonwalk One." There's also 35mm footage of the astronauts shot by NASA and crews from the National Archives. It was an unwieldy camera format and an expensive choice, but this is a fantastic example of your tax dollars at work. The crew did a stellar job of shooting the rockets, gear and astronauts, but they also trained their cameras on the citizens gathered to watch the launch and the engineers gathered in the control center.
The details are startling, from the incredible scale of the Apollo 11 launch tower to the room-size computers, all the way down to the weird paper sun visors that RCA handed out to the launch crowd. Imagine the very best photos from LIFE magazine and then multiply them by a million. This is a treasure trove of late 1960s American culture.
Instead of clogging up the narrative with a lot of talking heads, the filmmakers combed through more than 11,000 hours of mission audio recordings to create a soundtrack that's fleshed out with actual Walter Cronkite broadcast audio from the CBS mission coverage.
That also means the movie doesn't provide a lot of context. If you're showing this to the kids, it's worthwhile to watch another documentary such as "For All Mankind" to give background before watching what's presented as a timeline narrative of the mission.
Even though they're not speaking to the camera, you get a great sense of the personalities of crew members Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. And, since this film is focused on the entire mission instead of the perspective of just one astronaut, there's an excellent shot of Buzz Aldrin (aka "not the guy whose story was told in the excellent drama 'First Man'") planting an American flag on the moon. It's impossible to tell if Armstrong was thinking about how much he misses his daughter or about how future generations would assess his patriotism at the moment the flagpole hits the moon dirt.
If American high schools ever get around to teaching the story of NASA in their U.S. history classes, "Apollo 11" will be required viewing for every student. If you have even a passing interest in space flight, this movie will reward repeated viewings. It's been on repeat here all week.
The disk comes with an extra that describes how the filmmakers discovered the footage and then invented a new digital scanning device capable of capturing the 65mm film format. It's short but informative.