Judge Mike Rubino keeps saying he needs to go to the Moon, but he just can't seem to get around to it.
Remember when the whole world looked up.
There have been plenty of films made about the NASA flight program of the 1960s. From The Right Stuff to Apollo 13, From the Earth to the Moon to some IMAX stuff, you would think by now that we would have seen it all. Such is not the case. In the Shadow of the Moon unearths and collects video and interviews about landing on the Moon like never before, and manages to be both an exhaustive and emotional look at one of humanity's greatest triumphs.
Facts of the Case
America's mission to walk on the Moon was part political and part scientific. In a time when the world's two super powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, were competing in almost every aspect (yes, even in sports!), the technology race seemed to be one of the most important areas of interest. Less than 30 days after the U.S.S.R. sent the first man into orbit around the Earth, U.S. President John F. Kennedy made a historic speech challenging Americans to put a man on the Moon by the end of the '60s. A daunting task, considering that the space program was still young, and Atlas booster rockets were still exploding during testing. But American ingenuity and determination prevailed, and we went to the Moon…whether we were ready or not.
In the Shadow of the Moon tells the story of these missions through raw, unedited NASA footage and new, candid interviews with 10 of the surviving astronauts.
I have always been fascinated by the Apollo Moon missions, but after visiting the Kennedy Space Center and watching films like Ron Howard's Apollo 13, I thought I had my fill of knowledge on the subject. Then comes along In the Shadow of the Moon, a film that takes the Apollo Space Program out of the sterile, Technocolor halls of NASA and makes it personal, intimate, and beautiful.
In the Shadow of the Moon recalls this moment of human triumph with the help of almost all of the surviving astronauts, who give candid and touching interviews throughout the film. While astronauts like Buzz Aldrin and Alan Bean are intelligent scientists and pilots, they're also very funny and easy to listen to. They each have their own perspective on the NASA experience, and many of them were involved with the program from the beginning, even if they weren't privileged to walk on the Moon personally. Most interesting is probably Michael Collins, the third astronaut in the Apollo 11 team; also know as "the one that didn't walk on the Moon." Rather than being upset or disappointed about the whole thing, his reaction was rather surprising: his time alone on the orbiter allowed him to feel the romantic sense of man vs. nature that we rarely experience in the modern age.
The interviews were shot with a basic, but effective, setup. Director David Sington captures the true character of these men, and, thanks to boatloads of archival footage, shows us that they are very much the same people they were back in the '60s.
Sington, along with editor David Fairhead and archive producer Chris Riley, are quick to assure us in the commentary track that the archival footage used in this film has not been edited or altered in any way. With that in mind, the amount of footage they unearthed is astounding. Cameras were tucked away everywhere back then, as NASA worked to document not only the process of going to the Moon, but everything that went on behind the scenes. The film makes it clear that this mission wasn't just political and scientific, but also cultural. It was a televised, and sponsored, event that was shared with the entire world. Because of this, much of the footage that NASA had locked away is actually really good. Astronauts seemed to always have a tiny, fish-lensed camera with them aboard the missions, documenting even the crisis of Apollo 13. In a bold and artistically inspired move, Sington decided to leave the run-off frames of the film in-tact, meaning that some clips end with a scribble and a flash of white, or even scarier, a burning orange glow.
In the Shadow of the Moon doesn't unfold in an entirely chronological fashion, like most scientific documentaries. Instead, it's split into two sections: the chronological build-up to Apollo 11 and then the procedure of actually landing and walking on the Moon, which was similar for all of the Apollo missions. Sington wastes little time setting up the basic history that inspired the Apollo missions and JFK's challenge, and quickly introduces us to the astronauts. It's clear he wants this to be a personal, human journey, on top of the standard "space" stuff. Once the chronological buildup to landing on the Moon is finished, the astronauts talk about the procedure involved with the actual missions, and their individual experiences with the Moon. Sington's method of presenting the story in his own unique way, rather than going from mission to mission, sets this film apart from the rest, and allows him to focus on the emotions and individuals involved in the program.
Adding to the incredible production value of this movie is a simply perfect score by Philip Sheppard. Rarely overdone, the score ranges from light, bouncy instrumentation to full-blown orchestral bombast. Sheppard, a British composer, sticks closely to an American/Western sound, especially during the slow motion launch sequence of Apollo 11. The result is a stirring and appropriate mix that enhances the picture.
This is an overall impressive, thorough, and emotional documentary that is certainly one of the finest on the subject. And this DVD release will make it available to more people than could actually see it in the theaters.
The video and audio quality on the DVD varies depending on the source. The interviews filmed for the movie look crisp and clean, and even some of the archival footage looks excellent; but there isn't much they can do aside from re-master the grainy footage shot in space, and it's not really a problem when viewed in context. The same goes for the sound, which is actually pretty good throughout, even with the older footage.
The special features included on this DVD are all tight and well-produced. The commentary track, which features Sington, Fairhead, and Riley is very informative. These guys are able to explain where and when every piece of footage was shot. Since there isn't really a "making-of" featurette, these three do a wonderful job answering all of the questions you may have thought up while watching the film. A nice aside from the commentary track is a featurette called "Scoring Apollo," which takes an in-depth look into Philip Sheppard's score. It features some cool side-by-side comparisons of them performing the music and the scenes in which it appears in the film.
The biggest point of interest, however, is the wealth of deleted and extended scenes. Totally over 60 minutes, the deleted scenes feature more interviews and archival footage that cover some of the Gemini and Mercury missions along with some personal anecdotes. Nothing's really a dud here, and so watching these all at once is like catching another half of the movie.
Rounding out the set is an introduction by Ron Howard, which was hard for me to watch without thinking of Arrested Development, and a theatrical trailer. This single DVD comes in a standard case with a design printed using metallic ink…great stuff.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If there is one major complaint to be had with In the Shadow of the Moon, it's the Moon-sized void left by the absence of Neil Armstrong, the only, and arguably most important, astronaut still alive not to do an interview for the film. It's explained in the commentary that he declined out of modesty, not wanting to become the center of attention since it was purely a group effort. This is totally understandable, and in retrospect very honorable, but it still stinks to not have him actually recounting his experiences. Thankfully he is there in spirit with some old interviews filmed when the events were still fresh.
I'd say it's safe to consider In the Shadow of the Moon to be one of the best documentaries around on the subject of the Apollo missions. While it may not depict the most detailed chronological timeline, as found in most astronomy text books, it instead creates an emotional and inspirational collage of one of humanity's greatest achievements. It's interesting, humorous, and heartwarming without ever becoming too overloaded with sciencey details.
The sheer volume of deleted content and a detailed commentary track make this DVD release a must have for anyone interested in the subject. Th!nkFilm put out a great disc.
GUILTY of managing to be a fresh, heartfelt look at a subject we've heard plenty about before.
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
• A Message from Ron Howard
Review content copyright © 2008 Michael Rubino; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.