Directed by Todd Douglas Miller
HOME, 7 July 2019
This documentary follows the Apollo 11 mission from beginning to end.
As with many documentaries of recent years, there is no overarching narrative voice, something to be thankful for.
We see the days and hours leading up to take-off. All anxiety and fraught anticipation. Then we see the rocket shooting up to the sky and piercing earth’s atmosphere. Next we see it cruising toward the moon and entering its orbit, with the landing craft parting ways from the rocket and floating off (or so it seemed) before plummeting toward the moon’s surface.
For this descent, we learnt that Armstrong’s heart rate (he along with Aldrin was in the landing craft, while Collins stayed in the rocket and orbited the moon) shot up wildly – the human primate protesting against all the monochrome, celestial insanity – but you could not tell that from his speech. He was the same bland good-natured American, calm and collected and cool throughout. I like Armstrong’s blandness, by the way: it shows his brain is completely focused on the task at hand, there’s no spare capacity to charm his interlocutors. There is the historic moment when he descends from the craft and speaks of ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ before going on to plant an American flag on this new-found-land (to borrow from Donne). It ends with the men splashing into the sea and being picked up by the US navy, President Nixon looking on and applauding, as well he might.
All told, this is a gripping documentary, full of quiet heroism and good-natured efficiency and with not a few (entirely understandable) moments of steely tension. At certain junctures the mission could have gone badly wrong. But bonds held firm, errors were avoided, peril averted. You cannot help but admire America, or specifically this America anyway, a nation with a can-do culture – and they did it. They took on a difficult task, one commensurate with their capability, and they delivered. Now, it seems, they are content to do the easy stuff. To settle for less.