APOLLO 11 (Todd Douglas Miller). 93 minutes. Opens Friday (March 1). See listing. Rating: NNNN
There are a lot of movies about the American space program. The gold standard is still Al Reinert’s For All Mankind, a stirring composite of all the Apollo missions that premiered in 1989. And 30 years later, we have the first project that comes close to challenging Reinert’s majestic accomplishment and it’s dedicated to his memory.
Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11 celebrates the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in an IMAX presentation that offers a glimpse at the scale of the endeavour, and how complex and terrifying it must have been for both the astronauts on the voyage and the people running the show back at NASA. (A conventional version will also be released, but this is a movie made to be seen on the biggest screen you can find.)
Relying on a treasure trove of film shot in every gauge available – including some absolutely stunning 70mm footage of the launch from the Kennedy Space Center and the retrieval of the capsule six days later by the USS Hornet – director/editor Miller (Dinosaur 13) orchestrates an elegant, focused compression of the mission.
As the trip clicks along, Miller zooms in on moments we might not know that well, like a heated discussion of whether to scuttle the launch over a minor venting issue or a brief struggle to right the lunar lander as it raced down to the moon’s surface. Miller’s technical approach is diametrically opposed to Damien Chazelle’s First Man, which foregrounded Neil Armstrong’s emotional arc over a decade the biggest revelation about Armstrong offered here is that he looked a lot more like Viggo Mortensen than Ryan Gosling in 1969.
Although he employs Matt Morton’s jittery synth score to tighten or release tension in the moment, Miller isn’t going for suspense he knows there’s no point in trying terribly hard to work us up about a mission the whole world knows went off perfectly.
Instead, he shows us why we’re still talking about Apollo 11 half a century later, and what it signified not just for the men on board but for everyone watching – and everyone who’s grown up in a world where humans have been to the goddamn moon.