MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first manned trip to the moon, so it is a special pleasure to revisit this moment in history with Apollo 11. It’s a fantastic new documentary that utilizes previously-unseen 65mm film as well as high definition color photography (shot on the moon’s surface) to complement existing material and bring to life the 9-day roundtrip journey.
There is no narration, but the images are accompanied by a dramatic musical score, some brief television commentary (including Walter Cronkite), source audio and sound effects, edited in stunning ways to create a memorable film experience.
The film spends little time with the personalities of astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins but rather depicts them as three guys going to work to do their job, accompanied by thousands of others at ground control committed to making a successful space mission.
Early scenes show the massive launch missile standing majestically docked at Cape Kennedy. We also get to see a gathering throng of onlookers nearby (estimated at close to a million), with cameras, sunglasses and snacks at hand to view the launch with family and friends. It’s a retro blast from the sixties.
The launch itself was at a decent time (9:30 a.m. EDT) but the actual moonwalk was not so viewer friendly, taking place at 2:50 a.m. Older adults and others who remember seeing the video transmission remember that they were grainy and rather fuzzy. Eventually shapes came into view and began to make sense. Apollo 11 corrects this deficiency by sharpening the images and interweaving still color photos with the spoken comments from the astronauts.
Several sequences (including a window view of the lunar landing from inside the space capsule) are accompanied by real time gauges showing altitude, speed and fuel level. You have never experienced anything like this on film before and it is a stunning achievement.
I was not a big fan of First Man, Damien Chazelle’s 2018 biopic of Neil Armstrong, although if you desire more of a personal story about one of the crew you might still want to view it. I found the overall mood of First Man to be terrifying and claustrophobic; Apollo 11 is awe-inspiring and expansive.
When the crew finally comes back to Earth (and a period of quarantine) they give credit and thanks to everyone who toiled for almost seven years to achieve President John F. Kennedy’s challenge for America in 1962 to land a man on the moon. The world joined together in celebration. and the image of Planet Earth from the moon’s vantage point would become the Big Blue Marble that could bring us together in a shared commitment for world peace and environmental stewardship.
I hope that families will take the time to see Apollo 11 on the big screen and that we can all learn from this experience the value of a humble spirit combined with fantastic vision, so that “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: A stirring and breathtaking film experience about the greatest space voyage to date.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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