The enormity of this event is something that only history will be able to judge...
Apollo 11 is one of the most extraordinary things I've ever seen
(Note: I meant to publish this shortly after seeing the film on March 2nd. Circumstances prevented me from finishing until March 14th.)
I've always been an enthusiast of the space program. Even though we stopped going to the moon shortly after I was born, as a kid I devoured stories of astronauts, pored through science fiction, and firmly believed the picture books that told me I would go to the moon and live there. So far that hasn't happened yet! But there is still hope.
After seeing the trailer in a forum, I was intrigued. "Unseen footage? What could they have found?" I asked myself. Then I saw Scott Manley's review and I knew—just from his enthusiasm—that I had to go as soon as possible.
The documentary opens with the crawler transporter taking the assembled Saturn V rocket from the Vehicle Assembly Building to Pad 39A. A man walks nearby as the entire thing moves at a snail's pace. The camera pans back, and you start to begin to grap the enormity of how big the whole thing is, what a colossal endeavor.
Walter Cronkite's dulcet tones tell you what's going on, and I had forgotten how much I missed his voice. (As a side note, news snippets are the only narration the documentary allows itself, save for small animations to explain things like trans-lunar injection or orbital insertions.)
Cut to the astronauts getting dressed, and small slideshows of photos show their lives in a nutshell, cut together with interviews about what they are about to do. From there, all of the footage speaks for itself. The original camera crew not only captures the enormity of what the three astronauts are going to do, but they also took so many pictures of the crowd. And it's this slice-of-life that really captured my eye. These are people sleeping in station wagons, eating sandwiches from a store, coming from all over to watch the spectacle.
One other moment that I don't think I'll ever forget—as the elevator takes the astronauts and their minders up the gantry, the camera looks out to the horizon as the rocket scrolls by in the foreground. It keeps going, it's enormous, and it's going to take them to the moon.
The launch itself is magnificent, with the Kennedy Space Center complex full of people watching screens (during the production, the crew listened to thousands of hours of 30-track audio to find choice moments) and wearing their company-emblazoned shirts. Boeing. Rockwell. American. RCA. I'd never seen the KSC complex, only Mission Control in Houston, so that was a treat.
Once the rockets fire, the wall of.... sound that emerges is unbelieveable. And still I know it's scaled down from the actual event. Somewhere they found a launch-to-staging shot that looks like something out of SpaceX, another thing I never thought possible.
There are a lot of cool things they do to mark the time in space as they retrieve the Eagle from inside the third stage and later do the Trans-Lunar Injection burn. Where there is no footage, simple animations show what's going on. The art style is very reminiscent of the vector Lunar Lander game, which I hope is intentional.
One final thing I rave about—there is footage (albeit grainy) that shows Eagle's full descent from lunar orbit to the landing. In the corner, the filmmakers offer a simple set of numbers: seconds of fuel remaining, and distance to surface. They even include the 1201 and 1202 errors that distracted Armstrong as he looked for a suitable landing space. I had no idea such a thing existed.
If it is playing near you in IMAX, please go. It is transcendent. I look forward to owning it when it eventually comes out on media, and will watch it every July.