Ed Driscoll


Shop at Amazon.comI had requested review copies of Apollo 11: Men On The Moon and their upcoming disc on the Saturn V from Spaceflight Films, and while I’ll have a more detailed review eventually online, my first impression is that if you’re at all a fan of the space program, run, don’t walk to your local store (I saw them at Target this past weekend), or buy them online from Amazon.

This is absolute space geek nirvana.

The Apollo 11 package arrived today, apparently, they’ll be shipping the review copy of the Saturn V disc as it gets closer to its release.

I was just young enough to not remember firsthand much of the Apollo missions, with the exception of the last one, Apollo-Soyuz. But I certainly devoured lots of books on the subject, as well as the DVDs of For All Mankind and Apollo 13.

But watching Apollo 11: Men On The Moon, I felt like that whole period was right before me. Probably because it was! This set of three DVDs was assembled by a small organization run by Mark Gray, a 20 year TV veteran, whose father was worked as a NASA contractor. The discs are distributed by 20th Century Fox. Gray and his team basically assembled all of the 16mm and 35mm film and video that NASA shot to document the mission, beginning with the incredible footage of the Saturn V being assembled, all the way through to the moon landing. (And to the landing back on Earth, but I haven’t gotten that far yet!)

In a way, it really reminds me of the stately pacing of 2001: A Space Odyssey. On the one hand, this is staggering footage of one of the most important events in mankind’s history. On the other hand, because it’s largely raw and unedited, it sort of reminds you why the Apollo missions quickly lost the interest of the American public: the pace of a lunar spaceflight, given the enormous distances involved, is waaay too slow to be television friendly.

The Saturn V assemblage at the beginning of the film is just astonishing. Seeing the components with men from NASA and Rockwell standing next to them to place them into scale, it’s a bit like Mies van der Rohe was asked to make one of his skyscrapers fly: the individual stages of the Saturn are that huge, and the Vehicle Assembly Building they’re mated together in is even bigger. And seeing non-stop footage of the tank-treaded platform that hauls the whole thing to the launch pad is equally astonishing: how many skyscrapers move?

This isn’t Ron Howard’s Hollywood version of Apollo 13, so there are only glimpses of the personalities of the Apollo 11 crew, but it’s interesting: watching Neil Armstrong on the ground, he seems to have a slight smirk on his face, a slight cockiness. But hey, if I was a hotshot former X-15 test pilot and Gemini astronaut who was about to become the most famous explorer since Christopher Columbus, I’d probably be a little cocky too. It’s also an amazing contrast watching the crew in both their white spacesuits, and their off-duty togs: Buzz Aldrin’s powder blue turtleneck and cardigan, and the Ban-Lon short-sleeve sportshirts worn by the other two men are just too much. (It reminds me that in a way, the future–our future–is in the past: the space program should be decades ahead of where it is now. We’ve wasted so much time piddling around with the Space Shuttle.) The DVD also contains the crew’s postflight debriefing, and it’s interesting to compare their no-nonsense tone talking among fellow NASA personal with their much more jovial attitude when they knew their statements were being beamed back to Earth for live, worldwide consumption.

After posing for PR photos, the three men then hop into their space capsule atop the Saturn V, and the whole shebang is launched into orbit. Shop at Amazon.com

Which is covered by 15 synchronized cameras.

That you can click through and choose with your DVD player’s remote control.

The multi-angle function of DVDs is rarely taken advantage of, and this is a tour-de-force of what it can do. Of course, the whole package is a tour-de-force of what DVD can do. I’ll have more thoughts later, or when I upload my actual review. But God, I’m loving what I see so far.

If you’re a casual fan of the Apollo missions, this in-depth, full immersion treatment may be a bit overwhelming. I’d suggest watching Apollo 13, From The Earth To The Moon, or Criterion’s painfully underrated documentary DVD, For All Mankind. But if want to feel like you’re actually onboard with Neil, Buzz and Michael, this is your DVD.

(Also on Blogcritics.)