Tag Archives: Neil Armstrong

Apollo 11

Rated G, 93 mins

Capitol Cinemas Manuka, Dendy Canberra Centre, Palace Electric New Acton

5 Stars

Review © Jane Freebury

There are no talking heads recalling the event or opining its significance in this new doco about the first moon landing. Apollo 11 tells a well-known story in a fresh and dynamic way that is entirely in the moment, so we might as well be there too.

It is an exemplary record of the first time that men walked on the moon, and the astonishing story, a form of ‘direct cinema’ composed with archival material, is made to feel like ‘being there’ in July 1969.

No interviews, no voice over, and no re-enactments

Director Todd Douglas Miller, commissioned by CNN to direct a commemorative 50th anniversary documentary, apparently found much more footage than he could have hoped for in the archives. New vision in super wide 70mm of the launch complex, the crowds who attended and the astronauts’ recovery, helps make the film feel fresh.

There are no interviews, no voice-over narration (except an occasional announcement recorded at the time) nor any dramatised re-enactments. Skilfully put together, with a marvellous original score by Matt Morton, it layers the drama bit by bit, slotting the developments into place, taking into account the precision of the aerospace engineering that is on display.

We can expect to hear more from Miller, who has directed just one other commercial film to date. He was also the editor and one of the producers of Apollo 11.

Like opening a time capsule, not a selfie in sight

Things get rolling with the Saturn rocket on its way to the launch pad. We can see for ourselves how massive it is.

Now and again, the camera sweeps the crowds of onlookers gathering at a short distance from the launch area. They are filming on their Bell & Howell and Canon home movie cameras, and there isn’t a single selfie in sight.

Inside NASA, there are  teams of the men (plus an occasional woman) who made it happen. Rows and rows of them, in white business shirt and tie, anxiously consulting lines of consoles, while outside bands of journalists and hushed families, relaxing in the summer heat, wait for blast-off. Apollo 11 is like opening a time capsule.

Images of the pitted lunar surface and our beautiful blue planet from afar are so much more familiar 50 years on, but Apollo 11 manages to engender wonder and exhilaration for what was a momentous achievement at the time, and in the pre-digital age too.

Unfortunately, it cannot be ignored that the malefactor Richard Nixon was US President at the time of landing, and some of the glory unfortunately falls to him. However, the film seems to get around this by not naming him when he congratulates astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on the success of their mission.

The late President Kennedy, makes a brief appearance, as he should, delivering a few lines from his famous ‘we choose to go to the moon’ speech. But it’s not until the end credits, because in 1969 he of course was no longer there.

A new documentary for the 50-year anniversary of the moon landing was inevitable, but there was no guarantee that it would be exceptional.

Jane’s reviews are also published at the Canberra Critics Circle, the Film Critics Circle of Australia, and broadcast on ArtSound FM MHz 92.7

First Man

Rated M, 2 hrs 21 mins

All Canberra cinemas

Review by © Jane Freebury

4.5 Stars

 

The final frontier gets rather mixed treatment from Hollywood. The studios have had a penchant for filling the void with monsters and other extra-terrestrials but now it’s the scale and sheer emptiness that are scary, while it’s hard to ignore the prospect of travelling towards infinity and perhaps never coming back.

Space on screen is a broad canvas where just about anything goes, from thoughtful to grand to spoof, so it’s a surprise to see a film like First Man that is serious, low key, compelling and based on the real thing, when man first stepped on the moon, an event captured on grainy television images 50 years ago. Ancient history for many, but it has to be as remarkable today as it was then, decades before the digital age.

When we meet the famous astronaut, Neil Armstrong ­- Ryan Gosling in the role – it is some years before the moon mission, when he and his wife Janet (Claire Foy) are having a terrible time, facing the loss of one of their small children to cancer. An aeronautical engineer and test pilot, Armstrong is struggling to do his job effectively but his cool head does eventually prevail and he applies to join the new team that will attempt a moon landing within the time frame that the late President Kennedy nominated. A ‘fresh start’ Janet says, after their little girl has died.

This story of the Apollo 11 mission is told from inside a marriage, a good marriage, and Janet has a pivotal role in it. The obligatory scenes of national pride and the global impact of the event are delayed until towards the end, and portrayed like a postscript. Such restraint.

First Man still makes clear that the pioneer astronauts were highly skilled, brave men who understood the risks involved. They were asked to approve their obituaries before they left.

The fine screenplay is by Josh Singer, and is based on an authorised biography of Armstrong by James R Hansen. It is worth knowing that two of Singer’s recent screenwriting credits are for The Post and Spotlight, each of which concerns pressing issues of our time – a free press and institutional child abuse – and critiques the way they were dealt with in America.

Recent impressive films set in space like lnterstellar, Gravity and Arrival invite you to think and they are gorgeous to look at, but results are mixed. First Man does away with visual extravagance, and declines to philosophise about the void out there and what it might mean for us. The focus is instead on the astonishing feat of putting men on the moon, a story that is delivered with impeccable naturalism.

The emphasis on authenticity is crucial, though I don’t quite understand why the equipment had to look a little  dated, as though it had been brought in from a space museum. No doubt, everything was brand new in 1969. The production design is also sombre, without a hint of triumphalism.

Apparently, some don’t like the fact that director Damien Chazelle and his team decided against showing the planting of the US flag. Looking at the names of those who have complained and called it an omission, First Man is better off without their endorsement.

Also published at the Canberra Critics Circle and broadcast on ArtSound FM 92.7 (Arts Cafe)