The Screening Room | 'Apollo 11' re-instills wonder of space travel

The Screening Room | 'Apollo 11' re-instills wonder of space travel

We've become blasé where space travel is concerned, and I suppose there are many reasons for this. NASA hasn't had any manned launches in quite some time, and perhaps the prevalence of starships zooming through the cosmos in sci-fi flicks and TV shows makes traveling in outer space seem ho-hum. The fact that we constantly have our faces buried in a screen during a good portion of our day doesn't help, and besides, this whole space thing was soooo long ago, who cares about it, anyway?

The remarkable thing about Todd Douglas Miller's rousing documentary "Apollo 11" is how it re-instills the sense of wonder surrounding space travel and reminds us in no uncertain terms what a daunting undertaking sending a man to the moon was and what an awesome achievement ensued.

And while the filmmaker's approach to this project may seem traditional, a small adjustment in how he presents the material at his disposal makes all the difference in how we perceive this mission and the men and women who accepted the responsibility to make it a reality.

Starting three hours before the launch of the first manned mission to land on the moon, Miller presents us with a piece from the first of many different archival sources in order to set up the gravity of this endeavor as well as provide vital background for its three principal players — astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.

A montage of personal pictures, home movies and professional photos constructed around the trio proves effective in showing us the men in a sympathetic and intimate light that helps elicit the viewers' admiration for them, as we come to see how much they have to lose if this mission were a tragic failure.

Miller employs a sort of epistolary approach to this story, culling together archival footage from NASA, as well as amateur films, news broadcasts, newspaper accounts, audio recordings and still photos to take us on the trip to the moon and back with these brave men.

Gone are the usual talking-head interviews that are often included in films of this sort, participants of the event recounting or explaining what it is we are seeing. In eschewing this approach, Miller lets the pictures do the talking, and the result is two-fold: Not only does this allow us to take in for ourselves the mind-boggling nature of this task, but it also makes for a more intimate experience, providing an unvarnished look at the people who spearheaded the mission, particularly the astronauts and their wives.

If there's one image that will stick with me among the many memorable moments in "Apollo 11," it is a close-up of the rockets as they ignite to propel the 6.5 million-pound rocket into space. Miller utilizes a tight close-up of the launch pad, the screen fills with fire and the audio is cranked to 11 to make the theater seem to shake as the rocket slowly but surely lifts to the heavens, the sheer might and wonder of this feat driven home in a singular moment.

Witnessing this and the other incredible feats "Apollo 11" preserves for future generations will help ensure that this and other accomplishments of the space program are never taken for granted again.

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'Apollo 11' (★★★1/2 out of four)

Cast: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, Walter Cronkite, Janet Armstrong, Jim Lovell, Gene Kranz and Deke Slayton.

Directed by Todd Douglas Miller; produced by Evan Krauss, Thomas Peterson and Miller.

A Neon Films release. 93 minutes. Rated G. At the Savoy 16 IMAX.

Topics (1):Film