For All Mankind: Criterion Collection
June 29, 2009
“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…” President John F. Kennedy said these words on September 12, 1962. He issued this challenge to America and 24 brave men answered the call as they undertook nine Apollo missions to the Moon between 1968 and 1972 with 12 actually walking on its surface.
Al Reinert’s documentary For All Mankind (1989) chronicles these missions in a unique way: it is essentially a mash-up of all of them, from liftoff to splashdown. No astronaut is identified by name yet we hear them talking about their experiences on the soundtrack. No one mission is identified from another and this strangely gives the film an epic quality, enhanced considerably by Brian Eno’s low key and oddly ominous electronic score.
With the exception of Kennedy’s famous speech, all of the footage in For All Mankind is taken from NASA’s archives and this gives the film the feel of being made from an insider’s perspective. This isn’t some omniscient dramatization like Apollo 13 (1995) but more like a fly-on-the-wall feel, like we are tagging along for the ride with these astronauts. In this day and age of DVDs, the various astronauts talking about their experiences over footage of the missions has the sensation of an audio commentary only not done by some scholar or filmmaker but by the men who were actually there.
Watching the footage of one of those huge rockets taking off is still an impressive spectacle to behold. The footage of the Earth as seen from outer space is breathtaking and really puts things into perspective. Even more impressive is footage of a spacewalk over the Earth as an astronaut describes the experience. No matter how many times one sees Neil Armstrong take the first step on the surface of the Moon it is still a stirring moment.
After For All Mankind, Reinert went to write Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 and contribute two screenplays for HBO’s ambitious 12-part miniseries From the Earth to the Moon (1998) but they don’t quite capture the immediacy of his documentary.
This is a re-issue of a previous release by the Criterion Collection but features a brand new transfer of the film, which looks fantastic. All of the previous extra material has been carried over.
There is an audio commentary by filmmaker Al Reinert and astronaut Eugene Cernan, the last man to set foot on the Moon. Reinert provides some insight into how the film came together. He went through thousands of hours of footage and managed to put together an 80-minute film. Cernan shares some of his experiences about what it was like to be an astronaut at that time.
New to this edition is “An Accidental Gift: The Making of For All Mankind,” a 30-minute retrospective documentary. Reinert always wanted to see this outer space/Moon footage on the big screen and this was the impetus for the film. He got his start as a journalist covering NASA in the early 1980s. Through his contacts he got access to their film archives and found footage that had never been shown. This is an excellent look at how For All Mankind came together.
Also new is “On Camera,” a compilation of on-camera interviews Reinert conducted with 15 of the Apollo astronauts. In the film itself only the audio is used and it is nice to put a face to the voice.
“Painting from the Moon” is an updating of an extra on the original edition. After retiring from NASA, astronaut Alan Bean became a painter and this is a gallery of his work with commentary.
“NASA Audio Highlights” is a collection of 21 soundbites from the first ten years of the American space program. Some of the most famous words have spoken during this time, including Neil Armstrong’s immortal words.
Finally, there is “3, 2, 1 . . . Blast Off!” a collection of launch footage of various rockets taking off for outer space.