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APOLLO 11 (2019) review

March 4, 2019

apollo11IMAX

 

produced by: Evan Krauss, Todd Douglas Miller, Thomas Peterson
directed by: Todd Douglas Miller
rated: G
runtime: 93 min.
U.S. release date: March 1, 2019

 

“If I stop breathing, I’ll be sure to let you know.”

 

As someone born nearly a decade after man first landed on the moon, that entire phenomenon seems like a lifetime ago, particularly as it approaches its fiftieth anniversary this summer. But those who were alive at the time describe it almost exactly as it feels in the new documentary “Apollo 11.” The sheer awe of the film’s opening shots of the enormous tank-like vehicle used to bring the Saturn V rocket to the launchpad are enough to erase the fifty-year gap between then and now.

“Apollo 11” works so well because, particularly in the IMAX format, it actually transports you to Houston, Texas in mid-July, 1969. Placing you everywhere from the J.C. Penney’s parking lot filled with spectators to the inner sanctum of Mission Control, the film’s first thirty minutes are its best, utilizing this never-before-seen 65mm footage as a time machine.

 

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If “Apollo 11” reminds me of anything at all, it’s what the IMAX format used to be dominated by, documentary films that could use this incredible canvas to bring viewers halfway around the world—or in this case, to the moon. As it has become more popular for showing mainstream films, the format itself has lost some of its awe-inspiring capabilities. “Apollo 11” brings us all back to middle school field trips where we could see other worlds with the closeness and clarity you have looking at this review.

Once the film moves into outer space, it loses some of its spectacle, as it would have been impractical to embed these astronauts with 65mm cameras. Nevertheless, the film does manage to stun the audience again as they synch up audio from the time with pristine footage of the men—and at least one woman—running the show in Mission Control.

 

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As Commander Neil Armstrong, lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin, and Command module pilot Michael Collins, prepare for their return to earth and we return to the 65mm footage, the film once again transports you to that time and place in America when we managed to think beyond ourselves. Director and editor Todd Douglas Miller is far from prolific—this marks only his third feature film since his debut in 2001—and it speaks to his attention to detail that he gets the film’s message across without using talking heads or “historical context”-type narration.

The way “Apollo 11” projects these legends as large as they’ve ever been makes the film a brilliant companion piece to last year’s masterful “First Man,” which sought to shrink these heroes to human-sized proportions. Making the other side of that equation as large as it can possibly be makes “Apollo 11” a one-of-a-kind experience in IMAX, though I think home video will be kinder to the film’s middle section. Either way, it’s a startling reminder of our achievements, one that’s optimistic enough to think that, after all these years, “Apollo 11” is still the beginning of mankind’s journey beyond the stars.

 

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RATING: ***1/2

 

 

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