The Apollo 11 landed the first men to step foot on the moon fifty years ago this July. In many ways, it would be easy to see it as a foregone conclusion. It’s something we learn in school as kids these days as a past accomplishment that we stopped doing for some reason decades ago, but the first moon landing was an impressive accomplishment for all involved.
As it is, CNN Films has a new documentary out now covering the event.
The film takes a format of using mostly footage from the original landing, some captions, and audio from the time period, mostly of NASA groundcrew and the astronauts, with the occasional bits from politicians and newscasters, most notably Walter Cronkite. Aside from a montage of photos of each of the three astronauts, we aren’t given any real background on who these men are aside from their names and a little bit of stuff from the old audio. There are a moments where the movie cuts to an animated look to show the exact maneuvers the spacecraft need to pull off on their way to the moon and back, but by and large, the movie just shows the audience what it looked like back then.
Now, I don’t go to many documentaries, but for the most part, I like to learn stuff when I do. A film like Apollo 11 has a major obstacle for someone like me, and it’s an obvious one: how does the film build tension and suspense when I know full well the mission was a complete success? The answer there is to utilize a soundtrack that can create a bit of suspense at the proper moments, and while it doesn’t go to the lengths that, say, First Man did for showing just how dangerous spaceflight was, it does show just how complicated the mission was. There were numerous places where the slightest error could have resulted in tragedy, so the very fact the mission went off without too many problems is noteworthy in and of itself, and it is to the film’s credit that it does as much as it can to give as much credit as it can to the many, many NASA employees whose hard work made the whole mission a success by often splitting the screen between the astronauts and various men (and sometimes a woman) doing work on the ground, crunching numbers, monitoring vitals, and other important duties, all of which were important to make sure three brave men could go further than anyone in human history had ever traveled and still get them back alive and well. Maybe I didn’t learn too much new about the mission itself, but I gained a new appreciation for all the people involved. 10 out of 10 anxious crowds.