Director Todd Douglas Miller has accomplished an astounding feat of historical preservation with Apollo 11. Using hyper-detailed 70mm footage culled from Apollo 11, he assembled an immersive movie without narration, talking heads or reconstructions.
The film brings Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, along with their millions of observers worldwide, alive for a new generation.
Apollo 11 Mission
Damien Chazelle and Todd Douglas Miller face a monumental task of recreating the first moon landing from 50 years ago, both filmmakers endeavoring to examine how it affected each individual involved, their mindsets and lives as they took risks many considered impossible.
“First Man” explores Armstrong’s personal struggles while “Apollo 11” takes viewers directly into NASA’s most celebrated mission — one which first put humans on the moon and cemented Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins as American icons. Drawing upon newly-uncovered 70mm footage and 11,000 hours of audio recordings from 1969, “Apollo 11” transports viewers back in time when humanity took an immense step toward progress.
Working with archive footage from Nasa and the National Archives, director Todd Douglas Miller and his team meticulously sifted through over 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio and restored reams of hyper-detailed film to curate this seamless collection of archive work – no narration and cutaway interviews were used; only pure cinema was shown when depicting such pivotal moments as rocket launch and astronaut return into Earth’s atmosphere.
Spacecraft sequences possess an intoxicating quality, which is enhanced by a score ranging from swelling orchestra to simple heartbeat-style rhythms. Furthermore, filmmakers rely heavily on headset and Mission Control recordings as markers of key events in the narrative.
The story revolves around the astronauts’ obligations not only to their team, but also the millions of spectators watching the live broadcast of this historic mission. Armstrong’s determination to make history, Aldrin’s reading out a prepared statement and Collins’ recounting of technical difficulties which nearly prevented them from landing are all poignant reminders.
The film’s only real letdown comes in its final third, where it becomes somewhat repetitive and dull. A more analytical approach could have helped, including using digital zoom or slow motion to emphasize certain details of images.
Apollo 11 Flight
Last year, film fans were treated to Damien Chazelle’s vision of Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11 mission in “First Man.” While that film focused more on Armstrong’s inner struggles than on its technicalities, director Todd Miller and his team have turned back to archival footage that helped establish him, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins as household names with this new documentary film. Remastered 70mm footage looks stunningly cinematic – providing viewers with an exciting retelling of an important event in our nation’s history.
Instead of relying on narration or talking heads, this film relies solely on archive footage from National Archives and NASA, so that viewers are treated to seeing what Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins experienced through their spacecraft cameras and hearing them interact with mission control as they explore space. Furthermore, filmmakers have ensured their sound design accurately represents space travel: you hear astronauts communicating from space!
Miller’s all-archival approach leaves much about the astronauts’ personalities and experiences a bit unclear; his goal seems to be cramming as much varied footage into as little running time as possible, without visual analysis or emphasis. One exception might be the brief montage showing them suiting up, which shows moments from earlier lives to give them some sort of familiarity and normalcy.
Archival footage captures the sheer scale and magnitude of an extraordinary undertaking: people watching it in amazement from Earth. Filmmakers understand this phenomenon and present it so we may comprehend its magnitude while at the same time appreciating its essential humanity.
Apollo 11 is an incredible testament to cinema’s power to tell stories and bring historical events alive, making it an essential viewing for space fans and offering welcome relief from blockbusters and superhero movies that flood cinema screens each summer.
Apollo 11 Recovery
When they were called upon for Apollo 11, the crew of USS Hornet were no strangers to engaging in hazardous missions in Vietnam; but this time was different: their role would be essential in recovering those who had just set foot on the moon and saving their lives.
Documenting preparations for their historic mission, this documentary documents everything from rolling out a massive Saturn V rocket to its launch pad, multiple perspectives of its actual launch and astronaut conversations with Mission Control in Houston through to their historic lunar surface trip and back. Furthermore, it delves into Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins’ post-mission quarantine period that included never-before-seen 70mm footage showing them during these initial 21 days of quarantine.
One of the more captivating aspects of the new footage is due to a collaboration between NASA and Miller, there’s real audio synched to it. Filmmakers listened to hours and hours of NASA back-room audio loops and pulled out astronaut voices speaking in space and their communications with Mission Control from those loops; then carefully remastered and synched them up with footage from actual events.
Surviving footage from the mission itself shows astronauts taking their first steps onto the moon and, once back home on Earth, crowds cheering them on – an authentic movie experience without Hollywood-level hyperbole or hype.
As you watch this film, pay attention to details like the Command Module (CM)’s special spreader bars that prevented it from collapsing upon being lifted by the crane and also noticed how one lander’s landing gear strut had been modified with an antenna for easier homing in on their radio beacon during recovery operations.
With the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 approaching, now is an opportune time to revisit it. Damien Chazelle’s biopic on Armstrong – First Man – offers a nuanced perspective while Apollo 11: The Unsung Heroes of the Moon blends archives and modern interviews together into one piece; but for true immersion of what happened on that historic mission Miller offers an excellent solution.
Apollo 11 Post-Mission
The Apollo 11 mission captured the world and cemented Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s place as American icons. This extraordinary film uses never-before seen 70mm footage to recreate all that transpired during those fateful days and hours when America took an important step for humanity.
The film opens with astronauts planning their next moves and reviewing available footage in Mission Control, followed by their move to the launch pad where stages separate and the spacecraft roll off into orbit before landing safely in Hawaii’s Pacific waters.
On July 20, 1969, eight days after President Kennedy issued the challenge of sending men to the moon, NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin from lunar module Eagle emerged into dusty lunar soil to plant an American flag and conduct two hours of walking, taking photographs, deploying scientific experiments such as seismographs to detect moonquakes, laser reflectors to calculate distance to surface accurately, as well as collecting samples to provide fuel for scientific investigation of lunar terrain and more importantly examining piles of rock and soil specimens that will continue fuel scientific study over time.
For 21 hours and 36 minutes, astronauts were subjected to gravity that was one-sixth as strong as that on Earth; additionally they endured an agonizing communication blackout for three minutes during reentry when it appeared they might run out of fuel and crash into the ocean.
Armstrong and Aldrin needed to get back to the LM before any buildup of pressure in their ascent engine could rupture a gas line; unfortunately, however, an ice blockage in one of the fuel tubes threatened exactly this fateful day. Thankfully, however, their problem was quickly remedied, and they returned safely home where they were doused in disinfectant just in case any moon bugs had made an appearance!
Unfortunately, this movie suffers from its overly naturalistic, normative approach to its subjects. Miller attempts to give astronauts some personalization by including their Kodak photographs into a sequence where they suit up for Moon landing; unfortunately it falls flat.