Directed by Todd Douglas Miller
Way back in 1902, Georges Méliès took some of cinema’s first audiences on A Trip to the Moon. Even since long before then, we have had an obsession with the moon and its mysterious alluring power. Who would have thought that one day, films chronicling human travel to the moon would be documentaries instead of just fantasies?
Earlier this year, I saw Weyes Blood in concert (amazing show) and at one point, she asked the crowd to “raise your hand if you believe the moon landing was filmed by Stanley Kubrick.” A strange request, but one that surprisingly(?) yielded a couple of affirmative responses (she commented that Canadian audiences seemed far more into this theory). People these days will believe anything, and yet are also more sceptical than ever. The internet is a place where we can go to validate our beliefs and discredit others — no matter where along the conspiracy theorist scale we fall. “Jet fuel can’t melt steel beams” and “Epstein didn’t kill himself”; to one reader these are inane ramblings, to another I’m spitting straight facts.
The big, fun one — as Weyes Blood herself addresses — is the subject of the moon landing. The romantic (and, I would argue, the realist) in me has always wanted to believe that, yes, of course we went to the moon. Whilst I don’t harbour many crackpot opinions (though there are a couple, which I shan’t dwell upon), I confess to peering down the YouTube rabbit hole of feature-length “documentaries” debunking the supposed fact of our trip to that big old cheesy boi in the sky. I’ve never been truly convinced by the dissenters; I’m interested in their arguments and evidence but from a more distant, studious point of view, rather than that of a fervent potential convert. It’s the same as me listening to flat-earthers or watching conservatives “cucking libs” online — I do so with a mixture of amusement and fascination, trying (usually fruitlessly) to understand how someone could subscribe to a way of thought so fundamentally incongruous with my own.
So call me a believer, a man of sense, a gullible fool, whatever you like. I am fairly certain we went to the moon, though maybe I haven’t done enough research to back this up. But hey, Apollo 11 — a compelling collection of archival footage, released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first manned lunar mission — more or less covers that. Hell, even if you think the whole thing was a hoax, I defy you to watch this film and not at least wish that we really did get up there. It’s the most convincing case I’ve seen from either side. The power of C I N E M A is enough to make me believe anything.
Speaking of which, what a damn fool I am for not catching this on a big screen! Everyone told me to as well! Oh well, my second-hand home speaker set-up got quite the thrashing and I daresay I still got a phenomenal experience. And when my walls weren’t rattling, I was more than happy to simply vibe to the glorious extended ASMR-inducing sequences of NASA guys talking gently to each other over radio while synthy goodness pumped away in the background. I was not expecting an audio-visual treat of such magnitude to come in the form of a documentary, but here we are. Just as sensational as the space footage are the crisp, vibrant shots of regular civilians — families of varying shape, size and colour, decked out in 60s fashion — congregating to watch the historic lift-off. I could have watched hours of that material alone.
Perhaps my one criticism of Apollo 11, if there’s even any point in such a thing, is that I didn’t get the warm and tinglies about the whole humanity of the ordeal — what it meant for our species and for the world at that point in time. Other stuff has done that for me, even just the footage of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon’s surface for the first time, but I was more swept away by the spectacle of such a cinematic document here than I was moved by the feat of the moon-landing itself. This might be a consequence of the way this thing is put together — a skilful and elegant assembly of footage unmarred by narration or talking heads. I wouldn’t have it any other way though. Something about that slightly detached position means we have to create our own investment in these images. When watching these things play out so matter-of-factly, it’s almost like we’re watching the events through the eyes of God. Anyway, that is a whole avenue of belief I am most definitely NOT getting into now.
In conclusion, I leave you with this.
(Apollo 11 is now available on Blu-Ray/DVD, or to rent and buy through YouTube and Google Play.)
Review written by Shea Gallagher