Saturday, January 15, 2011

Canon Movie Review: In the Shadow of the Moon

So, I just finished watching the documentary In the Shadow of the Moon, which tells the story of the astronauts that were a part of the Apollo missions in America's attempts to reach the moon. In the Shadow of the Moon was originally released in 2007, and made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the World Cinema Audience Award. In the Shadow of the Moon was directed by David Sington and Christopher Riley, and features interviews with 10 of the 24 men that orbited, looped around, or landed on the moon, including two of the men that part of the first crew to land on the moon, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins. A few notes about this film, and there will more than likely be SPOILERS, so be careful.

- One of the things that struck me about the film was just how humble all of the astronauts were. To a man, each one of them were almost in awe and felt really blessed that they were the chosen ones to go to the moon. A few of the astronauts talk about the spiritual connection that they felt being up in space with the earth so far away that you could cover it up with your thumb, and most of the astronauts are not too proud to share their fears on the film. For one, astronaut Alan Bean of Apollo 12 mentioned that he considered himself to be the most afraid of the astronauts, as he correctly realized that he was about one inch from death looking out the window into space. In a world where showing any sort of vulnerability and humility is considered almost passe, it was refreshing to see these men who certainly had something to brag about be so, well, human, not putting up a front and being real, so to speak.

- One of the things I rather appreciate about the film is that the entire story is narrated by the astronauts themselves. Well, there's some old newsreel footage of important figures like President Kennedy, and a couple of news accounts are shown, but everything else in the film is entirely in the words of the men that were there. You don't get an account from someone like Larry King or Macho Man Randy Savage or some other famous person who the produces just attached to get the movie more recognition instead of the person actually having something to say. No, this story is entirely about the astronauts, and the director does them great justice by letting the men that were actually there tell the story in their own words.

- It's easy to look back now at those days and somewhat dismiss landing on the moon as a huge deal. After all, NASA did it seven times and haven't sent anyone back since 1972, as people just lost interest. But at the time, this was a very risky mission full of possible problems. After all, three astronauts had perished in a fire during a test mission on Apollo 1. During the Apollo 11 training missions, Neil Armstrong had to bail out on a test lunar module mere seconds before the craft exploded (and went on as if nothing happened, according to a bemused Alan Bean). During the actual landing of the lunar module, the computer controlling the spaceship was overloaded with information and malfunctioned, so Armstrong had to manually pilot the ship down to land. NASA and President Richard Nixon even prepared a speech in case Armstrong and Aldrin were not able to get the lunar module back into space to connect with the other ship controlled by Mike Collins. During the film, Collins read the speech out loud and seemed kind of bemused that he was basically reading the obituary of his crew mates.

- The film also uses scores and scores of NASA footage of each moon landing, and the Apollo 13 mission that was aborted due to mechanical failure (luckily, all three crew members survived and they later made a movie about it which you might have heard of). The footage isn't terribly clear and motion is a bit jerky at times, but it is still quite an incredible sight to see the moon that up close. It's just amazing stuff, really, from seeing the launch and flight of the shuttle to shots of Armstrong and Aldrin putting the American flag on the moon's surface to Gene Cernan driving around the moon on a rover (now that would be pretty awesome to drive around the moon's surface in a dune buggy, although I'd be afraid to go too fast and hit a bump that launches the buggy way in the air due to the moon's lower gravity level than earth, but I digress). Considering that most of the footage was from the 1960s and early 1970s, it's quite clear and amazing to watch, almost awe-inspiring, really.

- The one noticeable person missing from the film was the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong. Armstrong, described as a quiet private man by some of his peers, is talked about in glowing terms by the rest of the astronauts, as they pointed out his ability to keep cool under pressure (which he showed when landing the lunar module manually). While the film doesn't necessarily suffer from Armstrong's absence, it still would have been great to here the man himself speak about his experiences on Apollo 11 and the moon. However, while Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, it was Buzz Aldrin that was the first man to relieve himself on the moon, as he points out with little shame during the movie.

Overall, this is quite a fascinating documentary that is also very inspiring. In the Shadow of the Moon is deserving of all the praise it has gotten from various critics over the past few years, as it is one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. My only real qualm with the film is that it didn't focus a lot of time on the other Apollo missions besides Apollo 11, but that's understandable since it was the first flight to the moon that everybody remembers. Overall, I'd give it an 8.75 out of 10. Well, thanks for reading, and if you have any thoughts about this or other posts, or ideas for future posts, than let us know them either by leaving a comment or by sending me an e-mail at

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