March 10, 2019 11:50 am

New Apollo 11 Documentary Astonishes in IMAX with Never-Before-Seen Footage

I have once again been to cinematic nirvana. Being only 24-years-old, I’ve only had a few experiences of similar magnitude so far. Some recent ones include seeing the Academy-Award winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in all its theatrical glory, witnessing Tom Cruise fly (and crash) a helicopter over Kashmir as well as skydive over Paris in Mission: Impossible – Fallout creating one of the best uses of 70mm IMAX I’ve ever seen, and seeing a brand new 70mm print of Lawrence of Arabia that left me sweating out of the theatre (also because the air conditioning broke).

This time, however, was something different. This cinematic experience  captured real life. I was recently able to watch Apollo 11, the new documentary featuring never-before-seen 65mm footage from the mission, and I can confirm that it has taken me back to cinema heaven.

Screen capture from Apollo 11 movie.

Screen capture from the Apollo 11 movie, via IMDB.

The first thing that hits you when you watch Apollo 11 is an overwhelming sense that this isn’t real. Because the footage and restoration are so pristine, it takes you ten minutes or more to adjust your brain into thinking that these are not actors, these are the real people during the real event doing the real thing. It helps that everyone keeps glancing into the lens. Once you get past that hump (not even a hump really, more like a small stone in the street) Apollo 11 washes over you like something you’ve never felt before.

It’s impossible not to be familiar with the mission of Apollo 11. Even summarizing it sounds repetitive. However, with this new footage, Apollo 11 takes you inside the greatest human endeavor, using sound and images you never thought you needed. That’s what so wonderful about finding previously lost footage – it can unlock new ideas, conversations, and insight on even the most culturally over-saturated events.

Sharing similar DNA to Al Reinert’s For All Mankind, a 1989 documentary that charts the Apollo program as one sweeping narrative told only through soundbites of the astronauts that embarked on the missions, Apollo 11 doesn’t slow us down with talking heads or retrospective on the importance of the event. It hurls you right into the heart of the action as it begins with the transfer of the Saturn 5 rocket to the launch pad. Immediately you recognize and are taken aback by the enormity of the situation. It takes you inside the control room as nervous engineers comb through last minute checks. With the new footage, you can see the weight of the mission flicker through the eyes and body language of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins as they get suited up. Another wonderful touch is a reoccurring heart rate check-in, giving the audience a simple reminder that these commanders of cool were still, in fact, human.

The film takes you through the mission in chronological order showing the meticulous detail that goes into preparing a mission like this as well as preparing to watch a mission like this from a spectators’ point of view. The crowd shots included in the film are just as breathtaking as the ones inside mission control, on the launch pad, or anywhere else. The early build-up climaxes in an incredible shot of the actual launch, the momentous Saturn 5 rocket right in the middle of the frame, crisp, blue sky all around, as the camera slowly pans up while the rocket blasts itself into the atmosphere. The result is one of the best sequences I’ve ever seen in a film of any kind. I won’t even get into the sound design and score but I will say that it’s both Earth-shattering and out of this world.

Overall the film is good. During the stretches that don’t contain new footage, it’s like any other Apollo 11 footage you’ve probably seen. Grainy, fuzzy video from the surface of the Moon, always aching to be better given the circumstance, but limited by the technology of the time. However, I still get dumbfounded when President Nixon calls to the surface of the Moon to give his congratulations. It’s still a mysterious feat of science to me. And, it’s always comical to watch Armstrong and Aldrin stand in their bulky suits as the President recites obviously pre-planned remarks that drag on just a little too long.

However, the storytelling remains excellent throughout and with the help of simple graphics and the always cool sound of people talking in the 60s, there’s not much more you need. It also made me appreciate the brilliance of the criminally–underrated Neil Armstrong biopic First Man, which came out earlier this year. If you haven’t seen that, it would make for a wonderful double feature after you’ve left the theatre.

In closing, it’s a must see for any space fan, cinephile, or anyone remotely interested in humanity’s greatest mission. It can serve as inspiration to any young person that might be questioning a career in STEM and it can also serve as a wondrous reminder of what we can accomplish when we do things together.

Apollo 11 is now in theatres. Highly recommended to see in IMAX.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!
– Ian Mullen