￼The Apollo 11 space mission and mankind’s first ever walk on the moon has been covered exhaustively￼ through books, television, and movies (both dramas and documentaries). So a new film chronicling the lunar landing and the events surrounding it may not sound all that alluring on the surface. But don’t be fooled. “Apollo 11” is not only a riveting look back at a major historical moment. It’s hands-down the best documentary of 2019.
Todd Douglas Miller directs, co-produces, and (most impressively) edits this documentary that takes a very unique approach to telling a very familiar story. “Apollo 11” (mostly)follows the timeline completely through archived footage, much of it never before seen. Miller was given access to ￼hundreds of reels of film ranging from 35mm to newly discovered 70mm footage. Even more, he and his team went through 18,000 hours of uncatalogued audio, all to create the most authentic portrayal to date.
You immediately notice “Apollo 11” consists entirely of real footage and audio. There is no voice-over narration or contemporary interviews. The only slightly modern touches are a handful of simple line-drawn animations meant to clarify certain mission details. But even these few scenes are inspired by the 1971 Theo Kamecke documentary “Moonwalk One”. So the entire doc tells the story exclusively through the lenses and voices of its time.
At the same time, one of the most astonishing accomplishments is the amazing quality of the footage. Digitally scanned and meticulously restored, there are moments where the images could easily pass for current day. From the early shots showing masses of people gathering miles away from Kennedy Space Center just to get a glimpse of history. To the scenes capturing the careful and precise teamwork at Mission Control in Houston, Texas. And of course, the space and moon footage which can be exhilarating.
But what may be the most surprising element of “Apollo 11” is Miller’s ability to not only build suspense but maintain it. It’s truly wondrous considering we already know the details of how this mission plays out. And the movie acutely captures the human element particularly with the three astronauts who manned the mission: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins. It’s no deep emotional dive but the film deftly humanizes them through the very mission action itself.
The Apollo 11 space mission brought mankind together during a year full of conflict and tumult. For nine days NASA overshadowed all of the world’s troubles, showcasing the insatiable power of the human spirit. Todd Douglas Miller captures that in the simplest but most profound of ways – through the actual sights, sounds, and words themselves. No modern day talking heads. No excessive exposition. He simply sucks us into the actual experience. And the results are breathtaking, whether you’re old enough to remember those days in July of 1969 or you’re younger and coming at it with fresh eyes.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS