Apollo 11 is a humbling testament to man’s spirit of discovery

Director Todd Douglas Miller’s extraordinary documentary APOLLO 11 will make you look anew at what it took to land on the moon.

APOLLO 11 = a-mazing.

The Saturn V rocket just before launch

The award-winning documentary from director Todd Douglas Miller is an absolute must-see of a film. If like me, you’re a huge space exploration fan, or even if you want to learn a little more about probably the most magnificent achievement man has ever accomplished, landing on the moon, it’s essential viewing. Released around the 50th anniversary of the 20th July 1969 event, I managed to catch this only recently on the small screen. But that in no way dimmed its power or its emotional wallop at watching Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins take that incredible journey.

What Miller does so, so brilliantly with APOLLO 11 is that he purely uses archival and in some cases found footage to tell the events of 50 years ago. You are almost taken minute-by-minute on the voyage of discovery with these now-iconic astronauts from the day of the launch – 16th July – until they are safely back on Earth. It is jaw-dropping, terrifically moving viewing. My heart was in my mouth only a few minutes into the movie when at the eleventh hour before the launch, as the astronauts were travelling to board the Saturn V rocket, a leak was discovered. Anxious minutes tick by as the engineers endeavour to fix the problem. And even though we know the outcome of this story, very much like Ron Howard’s superb 1995 film Apollo 13, you find yourself on the edge of your seat with sweaty palms as you wait to see if everything is alright and the mission can continue.

One small step for man…

I adored the dramatisation of the race to the moon in director Damien Chazelle’s First Man – one of my films of 2018 – which focused particularly on Neil Armstrong. Miller’s documentary feels like its perfect antithesis and also counterpart. There is no narration, or actors or dramatic reconstructions, simply the footage and recordings from both NASA and the astronauts themselves – Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were actually made honorary members of the American Society of Cinematographers on their return – and as such, the film reminded me a lot of Asif Kapadia’s astonishing Oscar-winning documentary, Senna which was constructed using very much the same technique.

I can only hope that the awards which have rightly been given to Miller’s documentary so far keep on coming all the way to the Oscars because, in this time of division across the world, we need to be reminded of a moment like this more than ever. Watching the huge crowds gather around the Kennedy Space Center at the beginning of the film, it strikes you how everyone in the world came together to witness this experience, as a shared global community. Nothing like that has ever really happened since and so there’s a melancholic aspect to the movie about a time gone by when very brave but humble men ventured out into the unknown in the spirit of discovery for all mankind. Miller’s film is a beautifully moving testament to their bravery and one you just have to see.