Runstedler’s DVD Pick of the Month: Apollo 11 (2019)

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This year will mark the 50th anniversary since Neil Armstrong and the boys touched down on the Moon in July 1969. Back then, it was an epic event of Star Wars proportions (and I imagine the excitement of seeing the touchdown on a ’60s television set was akin to seeing Star Wars IV in the theatre for the first time) – the world tuned in to watch humankind take the next step forward. So much has happened since then – we’ve seen robots on Mars, satellite images of Pluto, the advent of the Internet, and more. It is a marvellous time to be alive – we can return to the past at the click of a button, look ahead to the future, and still live in a time where tigers, elephants, pangolins, and other creatures roam the wilds. The world is in trouble and we have an ominous future, but there is still some time left until irrevocable catastrophe hits. Watching the documentary Apollo 11 fills me with optimism and hope – it is a celebration of human achievement and fulfillment of one of humankind’s greatest desires. Despite the impending sixth mass extinction and the ominousness of climate change, this documentary makes us remember what we’re capable of and what makes us special as humans. Yes, humans are guilty of obscene pollution and deforestation and eradicating wildlife and overpopulation, but we also sent a few men to the Moon, and I think technology and collaboration will help save us and our planet in the years to come. Apollo 11 draws from familiar stock footage as well as unreleased footage and documents, and the timing and chronology of events positions the viewer in that summer of ’69, seeing it all for the first time. It is very special, and so breathable and vivid. I want to believe that such a documentary will squash the idiotic Apollo hoax theories (I mean, we’ve seen extensive footage of the takeoff and astronauts in space as well as landings on the Moon which I don’t think a film studio would replicate), but they always find more fodder and bullshit to chase after (guys, the flag was made of aluminum tin foil…).

For me, the film is also an ode to space travel and human discovery. As Carl Sagan once said, “The universe beckons.” And that vision is so apparent here, the desire to explore and learn more, to overcome our own limitations and thresholds to overcome the next frontier. The director makes great use of the archival footage, and the one scene where he juxtaposes JFK’s Moon landing speech with landing on the Moon a few years after his death was particularly effective and moving. It is a testament to NASA and humanity and deserves to be seen by everyone. As we are reminded, so much could have gone wrong with the Apollo 11 mission, yet so much ended up going right, and it has changed all of our lives forever.

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