Starring: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins
Director: Todd Douglas Miller
Running Time: 93 mins
Apollo 11 is an American documentary about the legendary space mission that landed man on the moon for the very first time, from the build-up to takeoff, to the historic first step onto the lunar surface, and the safe and triumphant return of the three astronauts with the support of thousands of people on the Apollo programme, and millions watching around the world.
I have such a profound love and respect for the achievements of the Apollo 11 mission, pushing the boundaries of all human knowledge and ability to achieve something that even today seems almost impossible, and that’s why I was fascinated to see this documentary, which relates the events of the mission in detail over the course of its 8 days of groundbreaking success and inspiration.
However, as fascinating a film as this is to watch from a historical and scientific perspective, consisting entirely of archive footage that gives an incredibly detailed look at a number of key elements of the mission, it really doesn’t work all too well as a great cinematic experience, with a frustratingly dry atmosphere that just isn’t able to hammer home the emotion and stunning spectacle of the Apollo 11 mission, making the film a factually interesting, but equally rather tiring and dull watch throughout.
And that’s a real shame, because however much you know or don’t know about Apollo 11 or space exploration in general, this is one of the very few historical subjects that can inspire a sense of childlike wonder in all of us. Just as director Damien Chazelle managed in his brilliant Neil Armstrong biopic First Man, watching the Apollo 11 mission unfold should be an astonishing and moving experience, watching one of mankind’s most majestic achievements come to fruition against all odds.
Unfortunately, this documentary really lacks that emotion and spectacle, and for all the credit it certainly deserves from a narrative and even stylistic perspective, telling a story using entirely archive footage in the vein of a narrative drama, I can’t say that I was entirely captivated with wonderment and awe in the story at hand, which proved to be the biggest disappointment of the film for me.
Saying that, if you look from a purely factual perspective, then this Apollo 11 documentary is an absolute treasure trove of incredible historical detail, invaluable archive footage and fascinating science and engineering from beginning to end. All documentaries use archive footage and explain the key elements of their story, but few do it from what is effectively a first-hand account, letting the astronauts, technicians, politicians and more tell the story that they lived themselves as it unfolded.
It’s a striking and unique style, and for the most part, it works wonders when it comes to giving you an informative and historically interesting documentary, taking a far more detailed and objective look at the Apollo 11 mission than Chazelle’s First Man or any other film, and therein teaching you so much more than you could have ever known before.
When it comes to that core factual narrative, I felt a little disappointed that there wasn’t a little bit more subjectivity and emotion thrown into the story. In effect, the use of only archive footage with no narration nor interviews means that watching the film is very much like looking at it in a sterile world that’s rather disconnected to the one the story actually took place in.
Again, it works to give an objective and factually accurate account of the Apollo 11 mission, but from a cinematic standpoint, the film doesn’t have the emotion or grandeur to really leave an impression, while it equally fails to give a wider account of the state of space exploration either during the 1960s – when the Apollo programme courted much controversy – or even today, a fascinating theme that would have certainly served to engross me a whole lot more.
Overall, then, I have to say that I came out rather disappointed with Apollo 11. Perhaps it’s the inner child in me overhyping the wonder of it all, but I felt a little let down with this documentary’s lack of emotion and spectacle, missing out on the truly unique power and grandeur of space exploration. It does achieve its goal of giving a factual and objective account of the mission, and in that proves historically fascinating, but it’s a film that belongs more in a museum or library, rather than a big, cinematic spectacle to be enjoyed on the big screen, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.1.