Movie Review: Apollo 11

Since I missed First Man when it was in the theaters (probably on purpose), I thought I’d at least make certain I saw the new documentary about Apollo 11which featured new or unused film footage from that first landing on the Moon 50 years ago. Space geek that I am, how could I refuse? I was wondering why my theater ticket was north of $20, then remembered it was in an IMAX theater. As it turned out, that massive screen with its accompanying super-duper sound system made it worth the price. So what did I see? Read on. This shouldn’t take too long.

What I appreciated about this film first of all was that aside from the music soundtrack and some simple animations depicting the various phases of the mission, there was no narration from a contemporary source. All voices, images, and sounds were from that time, including some stuff early by Walter Cronkite. However, most of the film is “narrated” by the voice of Mission Control, Jack King. The film takes you from a few days before liftoff to a couple weeks after landing (stay through the credits–worth it!). They don’t slow/dumb things down (much) for the viewer, and there were a couple things I missed, which will entice me to go see it again.

The film did, indeed, include images I hadn’t seen, including some scenes of the launch vehicle in its service structure, some crowd shots, images from the mission’s flight over the far side of the Moon, and shots of the USS Hornet prior to picking up the spacecraft. Oddly, the familiar film was a bit grainy while the new stuff was vibrant and clear. Maybe because the familiar stuff had been copied so often?

My inner techie spotted some things during the movie that got my attention, and I’m hoping my space-working/loving friends will be able to share some insights on what I was seeing:

  • The F-1 engines were wrapped completely in some sort of metal foil. What was that? I’ve never seen it in films or museum exhibits.
  • I could see a lot of bumpy texture on the Saturn V’s insulation at liftoff. Did a bunch of it fall off, or did it just end up that way?
  • The vapor cloud that builds up around Saturn V as it breaks the sound barrier is amazing. The film was so clear, you could see it swirling around the rocket!
  • Perhaps the most hair-raising stuff I saw was on the Lunar Module (LM). Some panels appeared to be wrinkling, buckling, or dented; others were straining against the rivets–I could see gaps underneath the edges! And people flew in that?!?
  • Some craters on the lunar surface looked like melted glass or blisters–fascinating! But what were they? Actual melted (volcanic) glass?
  • The lunar far side film was surprisingly bright. In this case, that was the “dark side” because Apollo 11 was set up to fly during the lunar day. What was lighting the surface on the far side? The stars, the Command Module engine, or something else?

Anyhow, I loved this film, which should surprise no one. If you’re not a “space person,” should you go see it? I say yes. It’s been nearly 50 years since that historic mission (which is why it was being made), and it’s worth watching a piece of our history on such a big screen and in such bold colors and sound. It’s nice to see the cheering crowds and staff in Mission Control waving their American flags. It’s wonderful to see my country doing awe-inspiring things and doing so boldly and proudly. And I’m fortunate to work in the same industry that is on the verge of doing bold things again.

Here’s to space.

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