I don't often write about movies here, but now and then something extraordinary breaks through the mass of dreck produced by the money obsessed Hollywood system.
The film is In the Shadow of the Moon, an amazing look back at the Apollo missions that took humans to the moon for the first and only time. What sets this film apart is that most of the commentary is provided by the eight of the twelve astronauts who have walked on the moon, plus the astronaut who piloted the command module during the first moon walk. Their recollections are refreshingly human, relatively devoid of technical speak. They tell us how it felt to be on the missions, what they thought as they saw the tiny earth floating in endless darkness, the difference between fear and worry, and much more.
Along with the interesting words from the astronauts is some incredible archival footage from the earth, space, and the moon. The footage from the moon is especially amazing: everything is gray or black, completely lacking color. The surface of the moon is only gray. The sky is pitch black. The only color is on NASA's equipment -- gold insulating foil on an instrument, the American flag on an astronaut's arm -- or the earth in the background.
The two photos in this post are from the Great Images in NASA library. The top photo was taken during Apollo 8 and is one of the first photos to show the whole earth suspended in the blackness of space. The bottom photo is of Buzz Aldrin setting up some scientific instruments. The photo was taken by Neil Armstrong, who unfortunately does not appear in the film.
New Yorker writer Hendrik Hertzberg has a series of three posts about the film that are well worth reading if this subject is interesting to you or if you appreciate great writing.
The film seems to be flying under the radar, as it were, so if you want to see it, look at your movie listings carefully or use one of the on-line movie finding tools (like Yahoo movies).
Although it might seem like a good movie for kids because it's about space and rockets and so forth, it's probably a bit boring and overly historical. Most of the historical figures and objects -- JFK, JFK's coffin, RFK, Martin Luther King's coffin, Walter Cronkite, and so on -- are not formally introduced, so unless the child knows 1960s history very well, it could be very confusing. In the showing I attended, there was one parent who explained nearly every frame of the movie to his child ("That's President Kennedy." "Look the rocket is on its side." "Another rocket." "They're wearing space suits." "There's Kennedy again."), despite the seemingly forgotten rule about not talking during movies.
If you want to immerse yourself in the moon missions for twelve hours, I also recommend From the Earth to the Moon, a fictionalized series about the people that made the missions possible: the astronauts, engineers, wives, children, bureaucrats, technicians, and thousands more.
Random link from the archive: Favorite Holiday Cookies
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