This is an extraordinary documentary about an even more astonishing feat of mankind—the landing on the Moon in 1969—primarily using archival footage, some never seen before, as it details the still mind-boggling journey, one suspenseful step at a time.
Plot: A look at the Apollo 11 mission to land on the moon led by commander Neil Armstrong and pilots Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.
Awards: Won Best Editing & Nom. for Grand Jury Prize – Documentary (Sundance); Nom. for Best Documentary (BAFTA)
International Sales: Neon
Subject Matter: Inspiring – Moon Landing; Astronauts
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
I must say that this is one of the most amazing documentaries that I’ve seen in the last few years. I’ve always been interested in things like the Universe, space exploration, the Planets, the Moon, etc., so it is no surprise that Apollo 11 was on my radar ever since it got released a year after First Man (2018) landed in theatres.
Unlike Damien Chazelle’s third feature, which is a biopic on Neil Armstrong starring Ryan Gosling, Apollo 11 is almost entirely comprised of archival footage (some never seen before) of one of the greatest feats of the human imagination in the 20th century.
It is an extraordinary piece of filmmaking with a tremendous sense of occasion, charting Man’s first landing on the Moon in 1969 from those few extremely tense hours before launch to the sheer relief of the famous trio of American astronauts—Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins—returning home safely.
“One small step for Man… one giant leap for mankind.”
It is a testament to the filmmaking on display that the entire journey is wrought with suspense, despite knowing how history would turn out.
Key to this is director Todd Douglas Miller’s decision to use split-screen effects and showing numbers on the screen (e.g. distance to landing, days on the trip, etc.) that give us a sense of where we might be on the trip, and also the hundreds of people—and precise coordination—involved in managing the flight from the various control stations.
Matt Morton’s music, thumping and adrenaline-laden at times, also provides another level of excitement.
Seeing Apollo 11 still boggles the mind—anything could have gone wrong and this is where the documentary succeeds, that we see how the expedition could have fatally collapsed at any time, yet the best of engineering, human courage and just that bit of luck proved to be triumphant.