IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON
Director: David Sington
Sony HD Cam
United Kingdom, 2006, 100 min.
*One of the defining passages in American history, the Apollo space program literally brought the aspirations of a nation to another world. Between 1968 and 1972, nine American spacecraft voyaged to the Moon, and 12 men walked upon its surface. They remain the only human beings to have stood on ground beyond our planet. For the first time ever, all surviving crew members from the Apollo missions tell their story in their own words.
Visually stunning original NASA film footage--much of it never seen before--is interwoven with riveting firsthand testimony. The result is an intimate epic that vividly conveys the daring and the danger, the pride and the passion of this extraordinary era in American history. Personal camera interviews expose the astronauts as fun loving, emotional, and very human. Audio recordings from Mission Control lend a strikingly fresh immediacy to well-known historic moments. Astonishing space shots capture the Earth in all its glory and reveal the Apollo program with a visual clarity and impact it has never had before.
Seamlessly melding the wonders of science with the drama of the human quest, filmmaker David Sington has crafted a nostalgic and inspiring cinematic experience that provides unparalleled perspective on the fragile state of our planet.
*Summary by David Courier, SUNDANCE Film Programmer
This was a wonderfully made documentary about one of the truly heroic acts in American history: the Apollo moon missions. I have always enjoyed movies, from The Right Stuff to Apollo 13, that explore this time in history. Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to see the mini-series, From the Earth to the Moon. If there is one thing that In the Shadow of the Moon suffers from, its that feeling that we've already recently been over this material. All the stories are familiar, from the fire in Apollo 1, to Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon from Apollo 11, to Apollo 13's miraculous return home.
This documentary adds enough new material to set it apart from the films before it. For one, the director David Sington, had an amazing amount of access to all the astronauts from the Apollo missions. The interviews with them are very personal and enlightening. Instead of cold and professional space men, the astronauts come off as flawed, decent, and surprisingly humorous human beings. You got hints of the practical jokes they used to play on each other, along with some of the reservations they had with the space administration. Mr. Sington addressed the level of intimacy he shared with the astronauts, suggesting it was do to their desire to tell their stories before they had gotten too old. He also claimed that his age helped tremendously, as he is the age of most of the astronauts' sons. It seemed that the men were more willing to open up to a man who reminded them of their children's looks and awe and wonder at these space men. I found it fascinating to hear the astronauts talking about the level of guilt they felt over being in the space program instead of flying bombing runs over Vietnam. Many of them felt like they had let down their comrades. Many of them expressed some surprisingly intense religious opinions regarding their time in space, and I found this a fascinating topic. These are men who have been closer to the heavens than any other human beings. How did this negate or increase their beliefs in a higher purpose or being? Do they still have strong beliefs today?
Another aspect of the documentary that helps it stand apart from earlier films of this nature is a great deal of new documentary footage and information. It seems that cameras were everywhere during these missions, all over ground control and in the shuttles themselves, from the preparatory stages to splashdown. I loved the behind-the-scenes stories. Apparently, just before Buzz Aldrin stepped on to the moon after Neil Armstrong, he paused on the last step for a minute so he could fill his bladder bag. The first man to piss on the moon! I also thought it was interesting that President Nixon had taped a precautionary statement, just in case the astronauts of Apollo 11 were unable to get off the moon.
The presentation of all this footage and interviews was flawless, with fine music and sharp editing. By the time Apollo 11 landed on the moon, the filmmakers had built the moment up so well that audience members were applauding and cheering the moment. It was stirring to see the world-wide reaction to that triumphant moment, from Walter Cronkite removing his glasses to families in Japan watching the live footage. I think an interesting point was being made: everyone remembers where they were when man landed on the moon, and that makes that moment one of the only triumphant moments in recent history that is remembered so well. Sure, everyone remembers where they were in moments of tragedy: Pearl Harbor, the deaths of JFK and Martin Luther King Jr., the Shuttles Challenger & Columbia, 9/11. It is nice to recall a seminal moment of accomplishment instead of calamity.
The most noticeable hole in the documentary is the lack of any interview footage with the most well-known astronaut of all, Neil Armstrong. There was a good explanation given in the Q & A as to the reason Neil Armstrong was not included in the documentary. Apparently, he has always been a very private man, one who feels he did his job for his country and that should be it. He means no harm and no offense; he just prefers to live a life of anonymity. The director had an interesting opinion about how Armstrong's lack of involvement actually helps his project. Since he is an American hero, the first man to walk on another planetary body, he is held to the expectations of heroism. His refusal to grant interviews or make comments to the public retains his dignity, his mystique, in short, his heroism. The American public love watching its heroes be disgraced, dragged down to simply 'human' level, but Armstrong's withdrawal from publicity retains his mythic stature. I like that explanation, though I wish it were included in the documentary so there is some explanation as to his lack of input on these legendary missions.