It may seem quaint by todays standards, what with the constant news of troubled celebrities, incessant politicking and rampant sniping on the ever-rising tolls of war, but back in the 20th century, man visited another world.
Think about that. Between 1968 and 1972, six NASA spacecraft ferried 12 men to the cratered plains of the Moon, where they observed it, as well as its parent planet Earth, like no other human had before or since.
Those 12 are the only humans in history to have visited another world. Eleven are still alive, 10 of whom recently decided to sit down and speak with director David Sington about their days spent walking on our Moon.
The resulting documentary, In the Shadow of the Moon, is one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring films this fall. It is also unique: the only collection of first-hand accounts from the men who actually rode the rockets that led to one of the greatest achievements in the history of humankind.
Documentaries are rarely worth the effort to see on the big screen, their impact just as immense in the home as it would be in the theater. But unlike the flat pages of a history book, Shadow lifts the Apollo program into living, breathing history.
It is framed, appropriately, around President John F. Kennedys May 25, 1961, speech in which he challenged America to the task, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.
Forgoing any overbearing voice-over narration, Sington illustrates how the United States rose to this challenge. He mixes historical NASA footage much of which has never been seen nor heard like this before with the reflective words and memories of the surviving Apollo astronauts.
Neil Armstrong, the near-reclusive first man on the Moon, is noticeably absent from the interview clips. Sington never addresses Armstrongs absence, but his spirit and self-effacing desire to preserve the achievement are clearly evident. Each astronaut seems to take his lead from Armstrongs well-known unassuming stance, realizing that their accomplishments were made on behalf of humankind, not themselves.
Sington also spends a lot of time showcasing the right stuff of these men. They discuss their necessary unshakable beliefs in their own infallibility, and test-pilot gusto, which undeniably fueled the programs manifest destiny to space. The comments are frank, refreshing and devoid of any of the patronizing self-analysis found in most documentaries and reality programming today.
Not that everything is serious, though. There are many funny moments, especially from astronaut Mike Collins.
Which is good because the film also includes the grim realities of tragedy. Apollo 1s fiery demise on the launch pad is reverentially addressed, as are the astronauts feelings of guilt regarding their exclusion from the Vietnam War. Poignant reminders of the mettle it takes to be an astronaut, and a stark contrast to the medias current diaper astronaut obsession.
While I cannot stress enough the awe of watching the NASA footage rocket across a screen normally reserved for CGI trickery, the true power of Shadow lies in the astronauts themselves. Sington preserves the honesty of their words, which have an overall effect reminiscent of an afternoon spent listening to a grandparent talk of a bygone time lost to our modern-day lives.
Indeed, in allowing us to experience so vividly this oft-glossed over and glamorized part of humankinds history, Sington even becomes something of a grandparent himself. Through these men and their accomplishments, Sington slyly suggests that though we face social unrest similar to that of the late 60s, we have no lofty ideals or brave heroes save those fighting for our country now for our inherent greatness to aspire to.
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