Todd Douglas Miller's film documents the Apollo moon mission in thrilling detail
Todd Douglas Miller's documentary Apollo 11 has earned a coveted New York Times "Critic's Pick" designation, in a review published on the day the film opened on IMAX screens.
Critic Glenn Kenny called Apollo 11 "entirely awe-inspiring," adding that comes as something of a surprise given "the NASA mission of 1969 that put two men on the moon... has been thoroughly documented."
The documentary Apollo 11, directed and edited by Todd Douglas Miller, is entirely awe-inspiring.
I add my own praise to Miller and his filmmaking team, having seen Apollo 11 in Los Angeles, before its debut at the Sundance Film Festival.
Miller told me the film is built around previously unseen 65 millimeter footage of the mission that researchers at the National Archives came upon when he asked them to track down all the available material from the Apollo 11 moon flight.
"When we saw the first frame of 65mm footage roll off the film scanner our jaws dropped," Miller recalled. The documentary is utterly gripping from the opening frames when a giant "crawler-transporter" trundles toward the launch pad in July 1969, bearing the Saturn V rocket that would fire the space capsule into lunar orbit.
Contemporaneous live reporting from CBS anchor Walter Cronkite provides context as the nation awaits the most audacious undertaking in human history. The film then unfolds in real time as astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and their NASA colleagues execute the intensely dangerous mission.
"Although we know how the mission turns out, the movie generates and maintains suspense," Kenny noted in his Times' review. "And it rekindles a crazy sense of wonder at, among other things, what one can do practically with trigonometry."
Apollo 11 is booked to play on IMAX screens for a week, beginning today. It opens on regular format screens across the country next Friday, March 8.
Miller's film kicks off what will be a period of reflection in the U.S. and around the world as the 50th anniversary of the launch approaches. As Miller told me, the film resonates in part because it offers a glimpse at a time, unlike today, when partisanship could be temporarily set aside and humankind as a whole could marvel at a spectacularly bold endeavor.
"Constructed entirely from archival materials and eschewing talking heads, Apollo 11 captures the enormity of the event by giving audiences of all ages the direct experience of being there," distributor NEON said in a statement provided to Nonfictionfilm.com. "When [President] John F. Kennedy pledged in 1962 to put Americans on the moon by the end of the decade, he described it as a bold act of faith and vision. Apollo 11 bears witness to the culmination of that pledge, when America and the world came together in an extraordinary act of unity and resolve, to achieve one of the greatest and most complex feats in human history."
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.