Over the weekend, the documentary In the Shadow of the Moon finally reached Vermont after several weeks in other cities. Ever since I saw the first trailer over the summer, the film has been on the top of my to-see list for months now. The premise of the documentary is simple - what was the Apollo moon landings like to those who actually did it? The film featured nine surviving Apollo astronauts: Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Eugene Cernan, Michael Collins, Jim Lovell, Edgar D. Mitchell, Harrison Schmitt, Dave Scott and John Young. The notable absence is of Neil Armstrong, who generally refuses to do interviews. The documentary is an absolute wonder to watch. While Armstrong is absent, the remaining astronauts make up for it, filling in their side of what happened. Michael Collins is one of the big stars of this, with some of the best insights to the mission and the sheer awe that the Apollo crews faced. Inter dispersed with the interviews of the astronauts is a lot of footage of the Apollo missions, from launches to the astronauts themselves. What's good here is that the director places the Apollo missions in context of the world by reminding us that the Vietnam war and civil rights movement is ongoing at this time, which is helpful. This is a highly inspiring documentary. I got chills watching parts of it, such as when Armstrong took his first step onto the surface, from Kennedy's speech, and numerous other occasions. Other times at the not so wonderful parts, such as the archived speech that Nixon was to give in the event that the astronauts would be stranded on the moon. There is much that works here. The interviews with the astronauts are filmed differently than most other documentaries, right up in their faces to really capture expression, and to some extent, for some creative purposes. It really worked well, even if a little unconventional. Coupled with the footage of the times and the absolutely wonderful soundtrack, this was just an absolutely amazing thing to watch.
There are some shortfalls though. While numerous astronauts are interviewed, the only missions that really get looked at is Apollo 11 and Apollo 13. The others are mentioned, and there's footage from them, but there's not as much there, as to their purpose. There's also little on why the Apollo program ended, and the status of NASA since. There are also a couple of times when questions are glossed over or not really followed through with. The entire film is a fairly quick look at the Apollo program, and it's main shortcoming is that it's a little too quick. What they have though, is absolutely amazing, wonderful and something that's an essential thing to go out and watch.
I've recently read a book by the same title, In the Shadow of the Moon (named by complete coincidence, according to the author), which provides a much more in depth look at the Gemini-Apollo program, and the book before it, Into the Silent Sea, is the beginnings of space flight to Mercury and probably a little beyond, both by Francis French. I'd highly recommend reading both.
This film comes at an interesting time. We haven't returned to the moon since those missions, and I think that we're at the brink of a crossroads where it comes to space. The X-Prize has been won and another has been created, and NASA has been ordered and is looking into future missions to the moon.
But, like with World War II veterans, we're going to loose these nine men, and probably within the next ten years or so. Will these guys live to see people return to the moon? I'm thinking that it's increasingly unlikely.