Apollo 11 is a straightforward, no-frills documentary that smartly relies on the sheer accomplishment of men and women who refused to do nothing less than reach for the stars, then park there, if only for a short while.
First Man premiered at TIFF a few months back to loads of politically slanted criticism that the film blatantly ignored the landing on the moon as an American accomplishment. Of course, later, we found out that the American flag was shown planted on the moon; it just wasn’t the center of attention that many envisioned. Damien Chazelle’s film’s driving force had more to do with Neil Armstrong’s determination to be one step closer to his late daughter, as the moon would be the closest he would ever come, while living, to being near her. Apollo 11 wisely focuses on the accomplishments of the team behind the mission as a whole, while recognizing it’s an American accomplishment, as well as a human one.
Apollo 11 director Todd Douglas Miller unearthed never-before-seen footage that puts you in the thick of it and behind-the-scenes looks at the greatest accomplishment in NASA’s history. Miller smartly doesn’t dress up his film with flashy animation or special effects to show you the magnitude of this accomplishment; he allows the ingenious video footage of the mission to speak for itself. The large-format footage is optimal in IMAX; it is worth the extra scratch you will pay for that experience but is just as jaw-dropping in the standard presentation. The very best scenes in the film are the real recordings of the space ship taking off and disassembling, allowing Apollo 11 to get to their destination. The other is (yes, this is a spoiler, if you didn’t know they landed on the moon) Armstrong and Aldrin performing what is called the lunar mirror maneuver, where they leave the moon and Columbia’s attempt to catch them and have them dock, before returning home.
Apollo 11 is a portrait of sheer will and determination while being a testament to what can be accomplished through teamwork. This documentary does a fine job by showing, at times, all the men and women who had a hand in the mission; from the engineer grunts to the men in the shuttle, to the team in the control room in Houston. They all had a hand to play while leaving their egos at the door.
They say the American spirit was born from the minds of a small group of dreamers, but it’s also a worldwide one that universally unites us all, and this drove NASA to reach its greatest accomplishment. Apollo 11 is a straightforward, no-frills documentary that smartly relies on the sheer will of the men and women who refused to do nothing less than go to the heavens, then reach for the stars, parking there for a short while, and leaving a mark in history.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.