Sundance Film Review – Apollo 11 (2019)
2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, or Stanley Kubrick’s finest work as a director depending on your proclivity to indulge in conspiracies. Nevertheless, with the help of some incredible, never-before-seen footage of the famous mission from the National Archives, Apollo 11 manages to wow in its details, and add new depth and understanding to one of the most famous feats in human history.
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Todd Douglas Miller
Produced By: Todd Douglas Miller, Thomas Petersen, and Evan Krauss
Using footage from the National Archives that needs to be seen to be believed, Apollo 11 is an up close and personal look at how the first man walked on the moon. Throughout the film, we see the perspective of the astronauts in the Lunar lander itself, those in mission control, and casual onlookers that want to see history made.
Look at All This Footage We Found!
There was always a plan in place to celebrate the Apollo 11 mission for its 50th anniversary, but that plan became so much bigger when a massive trove of 65-mm footage and over 11,000 hours of audio files from the mission were discovered. Director Todd Douglas Miller and his team aided NASA and the National Archives in finding, cleaning, and transferring every piece of content they could find, turning their film into something more than an ode to history. What started as a more standard filmmaking job turned into one of the more important footage preservation efforts in recent memory.
What we now see in Apollo 11 is the best and highest quality footage from the mission in existence, and it’s truly a sight to behold.
Stunning Photography Meant for the Biggest Screen Possible
Todd Douglas Miller has made a note of calling Apollo 11 “Dunkirk in space.” And while that may seem a bit silly as a soundbite out of context, there’s a lot of merit to this thought. Apollo 11 is incredibly technical, throwing you into its action with limited fluff while refusing to hold your hand, with all exposition solely adding to the procedural nature of the film. Apollo 11 doesn’t stop to say what just happened or set up what will happen next. Once you’re in it, you’re 100% in it. This structure allows for more room for the insanely impressive new footage that is literally breathtaking.
You will be shocked at the intimacy of the footage. You see the Lunar lander descend and land on the moon from a height of 50,000 feet, completely uninterrupted, and that’s only one of the incredible set pieces. IMAX is mostly reserved for the latest Avengers movie or whatever Christopher Nolan has coming out next, but there’s no question that Apollo 11 will be one of the best IMAX experiences of 2019. You’ll think that most of the footage was shot and put in the can yesterday; it’s not often that we get to see something with such a historical significance that has a sense of recency to it.
Directed to a Tee
The star of Apollo 11 is unquestionably the historical event at its center, but I think it’s about time that Todd Douglas Miller takes his victory lap. He knows that the incredible footage is what we all want to see, and he finds consistently inventive and interesting ways to include as much footage onto the frame as possible. Apollo 11 often splits into split screens, and even splits one side of that split screen into four smaller screens. It’s never jarring, frustrating, or jumbled, and it finds a way to create a holistic view of the Apollo 11 mission by showing how each party involved handled their tasks and reacted to important milestones. Quite frankly, I don’t see anything else centered around Apollo 11 ever topping this documentary. It’s the definitive piece of art for this mission as far as I’m concerned.
There is absolutely no fat on this movie, which is such a pleasure considering the amount of bloat on most films. It gets in, and it gets out with the perfect amount of resonance without lingering for too long. (But it will certainly linger with you after it’s over.)
A Fun Companion Piece with First Man
The Apollo 11 production was very aware of the First Man production, and vice versa. (Todd Douglas Miller has also noted that he and Damien Chazelle talked frequently during development.) And while Apollo 11 isn’t exactly super fresh, it is still a different and distinct experience. First Man is a very personal, intimate character study of Neil Armstrong that expands years, whereas Apollo 11 is an overview of the mission and its nuts and bolts; it’s a yin-yang relationship of sorts. I encourage you to watch both for that reason.
It’s not often that a documentary comes around, knocks your socks off, and makes another film better in the process. Apollo 11 helps show that First Man got a lot right about this mission, and that we probably should have praised it much more as a collective when it came to theaters last October.
Apollo 11 is easily one the most finely crafted documentaries of recent time, using its amazing footage to the fullest for a perfectly paced experience that will be one of the best IMAX experiences of 2019. You know this story, and this isn’t exactly the first time it has been on the big screen, even within the last few months. But slick direction and a firm understanding of the gravity of the situation with some touching bits of humanity sprinkled into the mix will always do the job for a large majority of moviegoers, especially when the film circles around one the most monumental moments in human history.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on Apollo 11? Comment down below!
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