by Toby Woollaston
From the opening shot of workers ushering the gigantic Saturn V rocket into place like ants hauling a giant stick-insect, Apollo 11 broadsides you with absolute awe. First, at the enormity of man’s creation, and then at the realisation that the crystal clear images unfolding before you are half a century old.
As part of the fifty year anniversary of Apollo 11’s successful journey to the moon and back (shame on you if you consider that a spoiler), director Todd Douglas Miller has impressively wrangled a large cache of previously unreleased audio recordings and large-format footage (found deep within the bowels of NASA’s archives) into a single spellbinding documentary.
The wizardry involved in cleaning, colour correcting, and smoothing out fifty-year-old footage may seem astonishing enough, although surprisingly very little restoration work was required due to the immaculate archives at Nasa. What is astonishing, though, is the way in which Miller has presented this piece of history; no narration, no talking heads, just the jaw dropping footage of the events as they unfolded.
It’s a marvel of technical filmmaking, exemplified most acutely with the launch scene—an undeniable high-point that cleverly ratchets tension through an orchestration of deft editing, stunning sound design and accompanied by Matt Morton’s spine-tingling score. It’s a mind-blowing experience that makes you sit back and simply gape in awe.
As the film continues to trace astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins (yes, the forgotten third tenor gets some love) across the gulf of space, the film briefly settles back into a more leisurely pace, allowing you to gather your wits before descending into an equally impressive moon landing sequence. Some might find the technical ramblings of control centre a shade monotonous, but it lends the necessary authenticity and vital exposition to a project that eschews narration.
In much the same way Peter Jackson brought the horrors of war into the present, Miller has, with pin-sharp efficacy, elided time and brought one of mankind’s great achievements to the fore. Bend space, time, and your babysitter’s arm to see this.