Director: Todd Douglas Miller
Once or twice a year, we get a documentary that comes out and absolutely blows everyone away with how it portrays certain people or events. Last year we had Won’t You Be My Neighbor? come out and make everyone remember the joy and love that comes with being a child (well, everyone except Academy voters). This year’s great documentary comes early in the year as Apollo 11 makes everyone remember the power of the space race and the amount of effort that was put into one of mankind’s greatest scientific achievements. Beautifully remastered and intimately personal, Apollo 11 needs to be seen on an IMAX screen in order to get the full experience and one of the must-see movies of the early part of 2019.
The film follows the events surrounding the Apollo 11 mission to put a man on the Moon, from the events leading up to the initial launch, to the science involved in this whole process, to the personal toll it had on the astronauts, and finally, the landing and journey back home. One of the things this movie does incredibly well is the remastering of film from the 1960s to make it look similar to film of today’s standards. I was absolutely amazed when the first images of Neil Armstrong and workers for NASA first appeared on-screen, as initially I thought they were just incredibly similar-looking actors. It took me a second to realize that the footage was really from 1969 as it was completely clear and didn’t have that grainy look traditionally associated with film from that era. This is a masterful achievement and honestly Apollo 11 might have just set a new gold standard for archiving old footage, regardless if it’s in a documentary or in a work of fiction. Outside of the restoration, the way the film compiles all of this complicated material into a mere 93 minute runtime is truly impressive. The subject matter involves incredibly complicated and complex scientific material, but where the film succeeds is it presents it in a way where the average person can easily embrace it and connect it to the more emotional and human moments that we can easily identify with regardless of your science background. The one thing I think the film would have benefited from is more clear direction. This film exclusively uses stock footage, so while on one hand it has to be 100% historically accurate, on the other hand it doesn’t tell much of a story from a filmmaking perspective. It comes across as just, “this thing happened, then this thing, then this thing,” and probably would have benefited from some sort of narrator or modern-day interviews to help put things into perspective. Don’t get me wrong, Apollo 11 is still an incredible feat from almost every other perspective, but I think spacing out some of the stock footage with elements found in more traditional documentaries would have helped get the point across more and show that the impact of these events is still very much felt even in the present day.
Overall, Apollo 11 is impressive from start to finish. Very few documentaries can capture the attention of the audience in the way that this movie does and combined with the way the old footage looks this is a clear contender and potential front-runner for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards next year. I heard great things coming out of Sundance about this movie, but I had no idea just how impressive it would be. Please do yourselves a favor if you see this and see it on an IMAX screen and take in all of the stunning images that this movie beautifully throws at you. You won’t regret it.
Overall Score: 8.5/10