I don't admit this to too many people, but the single most significant historic event I have ever "witnessed," was watching the first lunar landing as it happened, on television, as a ten year old kid. Okay, maybe there was a thirteen-second delay, but I was right there with those guys-- my heart pounding, skipping a beat every time Uncle Walter (a.k.a. Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America) interjected his incomparably eloquent journalistic commentary. But even Cronkite couldn't suppress his awe as mankind's greatest achievement unfolded before our eyes.
The documentary, "In the Shadow of the Moon," directed by David Sington, and presented by Ron Howard (who partnered with ThinkFilm to help usher the project to completion), is not only a romantic, dramatic, suspense-filled fantasy to behold, it grips you with deep emotion and vests you with our heroes through every sequence of their quest. And it's all real.
Without a single frame of CGI or simulation, the filmmakers compiled astounding, never-before seen footage with inserts of intimate confessions by some of the remaining Apollo crew members who took part in the nine moon landings. "Shadow" shows just part of how the work of 400,000 scientists and engineers came together to make President Kennedy's dream of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade, a reality. These are parts worth seeing.
"The extraterrestrial film footage, shot by the astronauts themselves, has been brought out of storage only a handful of times since the sixties and seventies," Chris Riley, the film's co-producer explains. Considering that there may not be any more footage shot on or from the moon by an actual human, again in our lifetime, this film is very precious indeed.
"In the Shadow of the Moon" effectively evokes that brief time in late-20th century America when we thought that the government was doing something right. This documentary puts a human face-- and soul-- into those bulky space suits, and let's us know what it was really like to be on those harrowing missions.
Command module pilot Michael Collins admits to having being excited, but not fearful. At times, mostly worried-- that all the machinery would work as planned. The documentary reveals a few of those times the machines didn't, or almost didn't work. And startlingly, how much "luck" played a part in the operations. "Shadow" nearly gives us a first-person experience of how a body feels, what the physical sensations of being shaken, slammed, and thrust-- first off the ground, then through the atmosphere, finally into the eerie calm and quiet of space. The men talk of how they felt a fool's complacency, if only for a second, after a rocket stage would break away and fall to earth, until anticipation of the next stage's violent expulsion reminded them that it too, would detach as planned, or explode killing them all. It makes the Space Mountain ride at DisneyWorld sound like a massage.
Although Neil Armstrong, known to be somewhat of a recluse, does not make an appearance, he is certainly there in spirit. His fellow crew members make it known they felt he was the right choice for the first man out. That he was preternaturally calm under pressure, they concur. Recollecting how Armstrong delivered those poignant first words as he descended the steps of the LEM, and how it might have been more tempting for them to simply yell, "Whoopee! I did it!" But Buzz Aldrin asserts that he also holds a record for a lunar first. In one of the many hilarious moments in the film, his feat is captured on video as proof.
Most of the men who went on the Apollo moon missions tell in this film, of the moment while in space, viewing the galaxy from a perspective very few of us will ever see, they experienced the profound realization of their own insignificance, while comforted with a certainty of infinite connectivity with the very stuff of the universe. Contrast that with the "hero's parades" and instant celebrity into which they were violently thrust upon return to terra firma. Additionally, some of the astronauts confess the guilt they felt, knowing that many of the pilots and friends they had trained and served with, were being "shot at, shot down, and were fighting for their country" in Viet Nam.
Some might have viewed America's race to the moon was little more than a diversion, cleverly orchestrated by government propagandists, from the colossal turmoil of the times. Others, saw it as a symbol of hope-- that there was something greater beyond our mere earthly squabbles.
Watching this film reminded me of what America is capable-- how much can be accomplished in the interest of science, ecology, or the most human of natures, curiosity-- not to be underrated. Present and future resources, research, and funding if thoughtfully channeled, just might be able to find alternate sources of energy, cure cancer, and save the planet from ecological disaster.
President Kennedy foresaw that the way out of the Post-War confusion and the Cold War paranoia, was to coach us back to the top of our game. Just a few years before what would eventually become the debacle of Viet Nam, this was perhaps one of the last times America truly was champion of the world. Getting to the moon made us feel like winners. We were proud. I still am.