Apollo 11: Restoring 70mm Footage

Apollo 11 immediately seduces viewers with its breathtaking clarity. From its meticulous depiction of moving trains on their journey towards launch pads to minute details depicted within the space capsule itself, every moment in this film feels intensely present and real.

Miller’s film features only archived footage with minimal animated details to provide clarity for mission specifics, providing an intriguing alternative to contemporary interviews or voice-over narration.

The Launch

In 1969, Americans watched in amazement as the Saturn V lifted Apollo 11 and its crew into Florida skies from Florida’s Space Coast – an unforgettable scene that still inspires. Even today when Apollo 11 is featured at California Science Center’s 7-story IMAX theatre it still inspires an overwhelming sense of awe among moviegoers just like it did that first July morning when filmgoers first experienced it for themselves.

Director Todd Douglas Miller and his team were searching for all existing footage in NASA archives when they made an unexpected discovery: They had plenty, much of it still unopened since its original mission took place in spring 1970 – it had been sitting largely untouched until now! Their discovery transformed their project from documentary to curation and historic preservation.

Miller’s new film chronicles the entire mission from its days prior to launch through some time after its conclusion, featuring only real archival footage with only minor touches such as simple line drawings that clarify technical aspects of it all. Without narration or cutaway interviews, his documentary successfully balances both its expansive scope and astronauts’ personal journeys in equal measures.

As soon as the movie begins, and as soon as you watch space capsules take off from Kennedy Space Center, you feel the same sense of anticipation and awe that their original audiences did. Thanks to restored 70mm footage, viewing this film truly becomes magical.

By the final minutes of any mission, it can be hard not to hold your breath as the Lunar Module rockets toward its surface and its landing modules prepare for landing. Tension in the control room becomes palpable as astronauts deliberate whether or not to disregard alarms that their radar system may be overwhelmed with data – and risk crashing on to planet they have traveled so far to explore.

The Crew

As one looks upon these breathtaking images from this film, it is hard to believe it has been nearly 50 years since Apollo 11 first launched with the Saturn V rocket from Florida’s skies and embarked on its mission. Working closely with NASA and the National Archives, director Todd Douglas Miller meticulously restored and cataloged 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio and 70mm footage without narration or cutaway interviews; producing an impressive work of historical preservation without narration or cutaway interviews – an utterly faithful recreation of all that comprised Apollo 11.

Miller’s crew captured every last detail of astronauts as they prepared for spaceflight and landing, from launch, flight and landing. Filming took place in Mission Control room where an intense and focused team of astronauts and staff labored tirelessly toward their goal; “Capcom” in charge of direct communication with astronauts; computerized status boards that tracked precise trajectories and technical data were also captured on camera; finally they captured hundreds of NASA employees who supported astronauts as evidenced in an “11” credits sequence displaying all names of key personnel in an “11” shape as part of final credits sequence.

The resultant film is an engaging cinematic experience that brings humanity’s greatest achievement back into focus. It exemplifies both its sheer scale and all those involved who worked tirelessly together with hard science, solid luck, and blind faith to bring it about.

This IMAX release, which has already been shown to astronauts involved in the mission and their families, marks one of several to come in celebration of the 50th anniversary of that historic flight. For those lucky enough to have witnessed it all first-hand, watching this film brings it all back with stunning clarity and brings back feelings of both pride and wonder; Buzz Aldrin and Rick Armstrong left jaws dropped during an early screening and have both indicated interest in seeing it when it hits theaters this weekend.

The Mission Control

Beginning the film you see tracks snaking over a huge NASA crawler-transporter heading toward Kennedy Space Center for launch, with clear imagery of the Saturn V rocket which would soon launch Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins into space. From then on it builds steadily as preparations lead up to their mission and finally their departure from Earth for outer space – truly an extraordinary piece of filmmaking!

Filmmakers aimed to use exclusively archival footage for this project, with only minor exceptions being some line-drawn animations meant to clarify certain mission details. Otherwise, all narrative is told through new and restored 70mm sequences, old home movies, news footage as well as film captured aboard an actual Apollo spacecraft by astronauts themselves.

As Miller’s team accomplished, telling such an epic and significant piece of history without voiceover narration or contemporary talking heads is truly astounding. They achieved this goal by using only recorded material to craft a narrative with the use of archive footage.

This story describes an incredible moment in history, which united people all around the globe and demonstrated what can be accomplished when we work together; moreover, it shows what kind of progress still lies within reach if only we try.

Some of the film’s most compelling moments involve Mission Control scientists as they monitor astronauts to make sure that everything runs as planned. There’s a particularly memorable tracking shot showcasing rows and rows of technicians hunched over tables staring at monitors, pushing buttons, writing notes on paper; an inspiring sight which can make one imagine what it must have felt like for them being so far away and yet so close at once.

The restored 70mm footage is truly amazing in terms of its clarity. Some scenes appear so convincing they could almost pass for CGI; everything from Cape Kennedy tracks and views, computer screens, clothing creases and skin textures is breathtakingly gorgeous.

The Post-Flight Celebration

Apollo 11 showcases its amazing images without narration or talking heads, giving audiences the experience of watching history unfold on screen rather than being informed by it. That alone makes this film truly enjoyable to watch!

Miller collaborated with NASA and the National Archives to produce this film by finding numerous 35mm and 70mm reels that had never been digitalized before restoring them to their original glory. Watching them projected onto a 7-story IMAX screen is truly mesmerizing; from watching the rocket liftoff (which seems more like lava flowing towards you than an actual rocketship) through mission control to seeing Eagle land, it all makes for an exhilarating viewing experience!

Miller uses an array of archival footage from before, during, and after the mission – from Kennedy’s launch; on-board sequences; news footage; to films recorded by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and their crewmates Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins themselves. Miller even utilizes a short clip of JFK speaking about it without making it seem preachy.

There are a few explanatory captions and animations, but for the most part this film consists of footage captured by cameramen inside mission control area, reporters standing just outside it, cameras mounted on spacecraft itself and sequences shot directly by astronauts themselves. There are also audio recordings from air-to-ground communications as well as postflight crew debriefing sessions that offer additional context to this fascinating journey.

This film pays homage to three extraordinary astronauts, while at the same time providing an in-depth portrait of how humanity managed such an extraordinary achievement. While scenes featuring Armstrong and Aldrin working their magic on the moon are breathtakingly portrayed, what truly stands out are shots showing all those involved with helping get them there – engineers frantically trying to fix problems before launch, astronauts waving goodbye from 200 miles above, every aspect is covered perfectly here.

Scroll to Top