CREDIT: NEON

Starring: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins

Director: Todd Douglas Miller

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: G for Gravity Defiance

Release Date: March 1, 2019 (Limited)

Documentaries featuring restored archival footage are having a moment. Peter Jackson’s box office hit They Shall Not Grow Old got in the trenches of World War I. The Oscar-nominated short A Night at the Garden uncovered a 1939 Nazi rally in New York City. And now Apollo 11 puts us right alongside the crew of the same-named 1969 lunar mission. As a technical achievement, it is stunning and confounding. Every frame is made up of 70 mm film footage that was shot at the time but never previously released to the public. The richness and clarity of the visuals are breathtaking. How it all remained a secret and in such good condition is surely beyond most mortals’ comprehension.

The you-are-there sensibility is so thorough that there is even time to check out the snack bar set up for the crowds gathered to watch the launch. In that regard, it is reminiscent of the seminal 1960 Direct Cinema doc Primary. But it differs insofar as Apollo 11 director Todd Douglas Miller adds a few showy editing flourishes. Occasionally he arranges a series of shots in comic book-style panel arrangements, calling to mind Ang Lee’s Hulk, of all things. Also adding to the mix is Matt Morton’s intensely looming score. I like both of these elements on their own, but I wonder if they are saturating the already plenty powerful raw footage. But no matter what, the awe and beauty on display is unmistakably evident, serving as reassurance that humanity can still find inspiration by looking up to the stars.

Apollo 11 is Recommended If You Like: Primary, They Shall Not Grow Old, First Man

Grade: 4 out of 5 Launch Sequences

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