Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Apollo 11 Shows That Flying To The Moon Isn't As Easy As Frank Sinatra Made It Sound

"How did they do that?" is one of the best thoughts one can have while watching a movie. When a film so dumbfounds the senses that you're left agape at how they could have possibly achieved a certain image or explored a certain theme to such a thoughtful level, it's just a rush of an experience as a viewer. Apollo 11, a new documentary about the very first manned mission to the Moon, is one such film that got me repeatedly thinking "How did they do that?", particularly in terms of me being befuddled on how people were able to capture certain moments in this historic voyage on camera. I'm still in the dark on how certain shots were achieved but I am far more certain that such shots help make Apollo 11 a worthy cinematic ode to a great achievement in the history of mankind.

Apollo 11 begins in the early morning hours before the fateful launch as everybody prepares for what's to come. Spectators situate themselves in spots where they can watch the rocket take off, NASA engineers ready themselves at their stations for any possible troubles ahead while astronauts like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are suited up for the voyage ahead. All of these preparations are captured with 70mm cameras that meticulously ensure that nothing that transpires prior to the rocket taking off isn't documented. Soon after the rocket takes off, we get to follow both NASA engineers on the ground and the astronauts in space as man prepares to walk on the moon for the first time.

There's common perception that the current generation is peculiar for wanting to constantly capture life through selfies, videos or other photographic means but if Apollo 11 proves anything, it's that people have always been keen to capture their lives with whatever cameras they can get their hands on. What's old is new again, as they say. This innate human inclination means the viewer is treated to footage of this monumental event from every possible angle, much of it captured in glorious 70mm cameras that allow for pristine-looking colors and rich details to be captured in every frame. You could have fooled me into thinking this footage was filmed last week, it looks so crisp and glorious! 

Not only is the footage prettier than a field of bluebonnets, but it's also impressive what footage is actually captured on camera. It's like the folks at NASA put a camera everywhere you possibly could and then proceeded to also put cameras where it should be impossible to put cameras! The unexpected locales that cameras crop up is seen most prominently in the moment when the rockets of Apollo 11 begin to lift off. We don't see this moment from afar alongside spectators, oh no, a camera has been placed underneath the rocket so that the viewer can get up close and personal all that gas lifting the rocket off the ground. You're literally right alongside a rocket as it launches off into space and it's a sight to behold.

Up in space, the astronauts don't have those massive 70mm cameras to capture their experiences, but they've still got plenty functional cameras that allow us to see their journey to the moon and, most exciting of all, their eventual trek onto the surface of the Moon. Before we get to the Moon though, we get to watch the interactions between the countless people working tirelessly at NASA ground control and the astronauts up in space. The way Apollo 11 cuts back-and-forth between these two groups of people in such a seamless manner makes for some of the best editing by Todd Douglas Miller, who also directs this project, in a movie that sure isn't short on remarkable pieces of editing.

Miller's work as a director and editor, not to mention the dedicated work of the many cinematographers (among them Buzz Aldrin!) capturing this footage, make Apollo 11 as endlessly riveting & uplifting as it is. Through the footage captured from so many different places and the impeccable editing that cuts across numerous perspectives in a cohesive manner, one can fully appreciate just how many people put their blood, sweat and tears into this endeavor. Fully realizing all of the effort that went into this mission makes the sight of Neil Armstrong walking upon the surface of the Moon all the more powerful to watch. Needless to say, Apollo 11 is a beautifully filmed ode to the many individuals who made that "giant leap for mankind" possible. 

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