Much more than an anniversary commemoration, Apollo 11 is one of the most astonishing documentary achievements ever. That’s appropriate, considering the first moon landing is among the most astonishing human achievements ever.
Culling thousands and thousands of hours of audio and video preserved by NASA and the National Archives, Todd Miller has assembled the full Apollo 11 mission from launch to landing to re-entry, in a brisk 90 minutes. He doesn’t have a single talking head or new interview, strictly using the various sources he had and having his crew restore them to their full beauty.
Just like the mission itself, this was a massive team effort, as professional lip readers helped match audio to unsynced video of engineers in Houston, launch site personnel in Florida, and the astronaut trio up in space. All the 16mm, 35mm and even 70mm reels were scanned in 4K and restored, so much of the footage looks like it was shot yesterday. That much of it looks so crystal clear helps it feel not like history we weren’t around for, but an awe-inspiring achievement that’s just as impressive today as it was 50 years ago.
While this film is part of Neon’s deal with CNN Films, seeing it at home simply won’t do it justice. In a theater, the massive explosion it took just to get this behemoth off the ground simply isn’t as impressive on a TV with standard audio. Learning that the spacecraft and launchpad weren’t assembled at the launch site, but all that hulking metal was wheeled over to it isn’t as breathtaking on a computer screen.
What Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, and the entire NASA crew made happen should be celebrated all these decades later. Todd Miller, Ben Feist and his whole team have given them the best possible tribute. Too many of you slept on First Man. Don’t miss the real thing.