REVIEW: “Apollo 11” (2019)

Apollo BIG poster

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.


© 2019 Neon CNN Films

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.


© 2019 Neon CNN Films

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.



20 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Apollo 11” (2019)

  1. I’d like to see this, Keith. I was 6 when my mother sat me down in front of the television to watch the event as it is probably the most significant (positive) event that happened in the 20th century.

  2. I was a space nut as a kid as there’s that part of me that wants to see it as I’m still interested in the world of outer space and astronauts though Gravity is the main reason why I don’t ever want to become an astronaut. That film killed my childhood dreams.

  3. 100% with you. Best documentary of the year, and one of my favorite movie experiences period of 2019. The lunar landing sequence — I did not breathe for minutes during that sequence. That was absolutely outstanding stuff.

    • EXACTLY! And that is despite knowing exactly what happens. It’s soooo well done. I hate to keep repeating myself, but IMO this is the biggest snub out of this year’s Oscar nominations.

      • Oh trust me man. You’ve already seen me go off (I apologize for that btw). It’s incredibly annoying that this wasn’t even nominated. It’s total b.s. I mean, I’m really really keen on seeing Honeyland and The Edge of Democracy, but of the others I’m not really sure (I can’t even name them off the top) if I’ll even get around to seeing. There were two things I loved about Apollo 11. One was, obviously, the mission itself. The technical detail and the clarity of the pictures. The other was how much this functioned as a time capsule back to the ’60s. It really puts you back there, in that time. I think that’s where the lack of a voiceover narration or talking heads really helps — there are no distractions from the time and place.

      • You nail it man. All of those things are essential to the experience I had with this doc. As for the others, For Selma is good. American Factory is fine. Honeyland is really good. But none of them are close to Apollo 11 IMO. Reminds me of how “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” got completely shafted in the same category.

  4. I missed this in theaters and never got around to watching it. I hadn’t realized it was all archived footage and not much else. I may give it a watch if I can find it.

  5. Wow, that sounds really good! My only qualm about watching it is that my Dad is a moon landing denier, and wouldn’t refrain from a spiel (or from saying I’m brainwashed) even if he skipped watching it. And I’m not in the mood for another argument yet.

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