February 22, 2008
“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” And with those iconic words, spoken by astronaut Neil Armstrong, we landed on the Moon. It was the first time that a human being visited another world. Documentary In the Shadow of the Moon (2007) takes a look at the men who were a part of the nine Apollo missions that went to the Moon between 1968 and 1972 as told by those who did it.
The documentary begins, appropriately enough, with John F. Kennedy’s famous May 25, 1961 speech where he issued a challenge for America to beat the Soviet Union to the Moon by getting someone there and back before the end of the 1960s. Russia had already beat the United States into outer space and Kennedy was determined that this would not happen with the Moon.
The men that would eventually become members of the Apollo missions got their start as test pilots, an elite breed that had what Tom Wolfe called, “The Right Stuff,” excelling at pushing the envelope when it came to flying. This all changed when men started going into space. People forget that, at the time, no one knew how to go to the Moon. Scientists worked closely with the astronauts to design spacecraft they hoped could make it there and back.
While the documentary celebrates these men, it doesn’t shy away from the failure that occasionally plagued the space program as well. The first test resulted in a fire that killed three astronauts. Some of them felt guilty for being in the space program while some of their buddies were fighting in the Vietnam War. They also felt pressured to create something positive while the country was deeply conflicted. The Russians were also threatening to send a manned spacecraft around the Moon and so the U.S. had to act fast.
Fortunately, America got someone to orbit the Moon first and the next step was to actually land on the Moon. Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on it, is represented in archival footage but has always stayed out of the public limelight. He is spoken of highly by his fellow astronauts, one of whom tells an amusing story of his unflappable nature under pressure.
There is some absolutely incredible archival footage of what it is like to launch a rocket into outer space and how the astronauts saw the Earth from their craft. However, the most breathtaking footage, not surprisingly, is of the Moon that really conveys what an awe-inspiring experience it must’ve been to actually go there and set foot on its surface.
The Apollo 13 mishap is also covered but not in great detail. The filmmakers must assume that we’ve seen Ron Howard’s film that dramatizes the event quite effectively. There is very rare footage of the lunar rover driving across the Moon and even shots from its point-of-view. For fans of Apollo 13 (1995) and From the Earth to the Moon (1998), In the Shadow of the Moon is the real story told by the actual men who lived it with astounding archival footage, making this essential viewing for anyone who is fascinated with this aspect of the space program.
There is an audio commentary by director David Sington, editor David Fairhead and archive producer Chris Riley. Riley tells us the source of a lot of the archival footage – culled from the NASA vaults. They offer their impressions of a lot of this footage. The three men talk about the documentary’s structure and how they built up tension and then broke it up with humour. Sington, Fairhead and Riley speak enthusiastically about what we are watching on this decent track.
“Bonus Interviews and Stories” features 18 deleted scenes that run just under an hour. There is a lot of excellent material here. The astronauts tell more anecdotes and impressions of their respective missions. We also get information about Project Gemini which came before Apollo. There is fantastic footage of what it looks like to orbit the Earth and we witness a sunrise and sunset from outer space. Also included is a more detailed account of the Apollo 13 debacle with Lovell and co. taking us through that scary incident.
“Scoring Apollo: A Short Feature with Composer Philip Sheppard” takes a look at how the score for the documentary was done. Before he was hired, the film’s editor used some of Sheppard’s music for a temporary soundtrack and he was subsequently hired. We also see footage of the score being recorded simultaneously with the spot in the film it appears.
“Ron Howard: Inspired by Apollo” features the director giving us his impressions of the surviving Apollo astronauts whom he met while making Apollo 13. He speaks highly of the documentary and talks about what he likes about it.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.