History is fascinating, but one of the more disappointing parts is that it’s just that: history. Billions of people aren’t able to live and experience monumental events and achievements that billions of people before them were able to. While we get plenty of books, films, and lectures, it’s all simply a glimpse into the real event. One such event is the Moon Landing, which Apollo 11 covers from the initial planning stages, all the way until the astronauts return to earth from their historic mission. 
I’d say about 98% of documentaries have narration and interviews with the people involved and some field experts to give you to give you an idea of what’s going on. What makes Apollo 11 unique is that there’s not one bit of that. Director Todd Douglas Miller presents the mission as if you’re a fly on the wall witnessing all of the events take place. The people in the control room, the crowds of hundreds of people watching, being inside the space shuttle. It’s all like you’re really there, and the lack of any narration and talking heads just enhanced that feeling. It’s very clinical and dry in its approach, but that was the perfect direction to take. No frills, no dramatization, no manufactured suspense. It literally is what it is. You get some text of names come on screen, just to give you a little background on who each person is, but it’s still unobtrusive and you learn more about them just by watching them do their jobs. There’s no real main character or focus on the people here, but all on the mission and the crew who made it all possible. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin get all of the credit, which they no doubt deserve some of, but this film focuses on how this was an achievement for all of humanity and not just a few people.  
Another thing that sells that the feeling of being there is the gorgeous cinematography on display. While working on this project, Miller and NASA unearthed a plethora of 70mm footage of the mission that had never been seen before. The detail provided by this resolution is simply amazing, giving everything such crisp and clean feel. I was particularly impressed with the wide crowd shots, where you can see the colors of people’s shirts and their hairdos way back in the massive concentration of people. You can see all of the nuts and bolts, scratches, and blemishes on the rocket as it takes off. Not all of the footage is in that crisp 70mm, though. That mostly consists of all of the Earth stuff, because they obviously didn’t have these kinds of cameras in their shuttles or out in the moon. Even then, when it’s grainy black and white while the astronauts travel through space, it gives it a sense of otherworldness, like we’re not supposed to be there. I mean, humans weren’t ever supposed to be there, but we did it anyway. We all know the mission was a success, but moments such as Armstrong needing to correctly land the shuttle on the moon or he’ll die is still incredibly tense, because he and his crew did come that close to dying. While you know the outcome is positive, you feel just like the astronauts in an unknown world, where any little thing that goes wrong can have catastrophic consequences. 
It’s the audio that really completes the experience. I was lucky to experience this in IMAX, which made not just the picture larger than life, but also the sound. When the rocket is blasting off and the thrusters ignite, the speakers and walls of the theater were literally shaking, almost to my actual seat. If you wouldn’t get instantaneously vaporized, your ear drums would definitely rupture and probably give your head the Scanners treatment, which they achieve here, making you feel like you’re right under the thruster, looking up. Then when they exit the Earth’s atmosphere, it’s a lot of eerie silence, some faint beeping, and staticky radio communications. You don’t just get to feel the wonder of being in space and on the moon, but the fear too, where you’re truly in the unknown with no escape. The only “movie-like” aspect is the score composed by Matt Morton, but it perfectly complements the visuals. When the rocket takes off and lands back, the music is soaring with strings and brass. When they’re floating in the vast emptiness of space, it’s synth and bass chords, signifying that they’re traveling into the future and experiencing something new. 
There are basically four generations that weren’t alive to experience the moon landing, but Apollo 11 is the closest we’ll ever get. But hey, that’s fine, as it brought me as close to the event as I ever could be. The gorgeous, pristine picture, the booming sound mix, the atmospheric music, the clinical editing, and the complete lack of a typical documentary structure made this not just a documentary, but a time machine to when the world achieved the greatest possible thing it could. When they show John F. Kennedy giving his speech about how we will get to the moon if we all cooperate as a species who shares this one Earth, it’s impossible not to get inspired and I’m sure the people then couldn’t even fathom what was to come. This is the They Shall Not Grow Old from 2019, in that it’s not a documentary about telling you the events, but allowing you to actually live them. 

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