Walk outside tonight and look up, and while it may seem as unthinkable now as it did 100 years ago, men from Earth once walked on the moon. We’ve had a busy space program throughout the 33 years since Apollo 17 left behind the last set of human footprints to date, but it has never again stretched, or reached, so high. This new documentary brings back the heady days of the Apollo program and the profundity of its achievement with humbling, touching force.
In the Shadow of the Moon gathers all of the living Apollo astronauts (with the exception of the reclusive Neil Armstrong) to recount the shock of becoming national heroes, the immense challenges of their flights, and their wonder at looking back at what Apollo 11’s Michael Collins describes as the “fragile” Earth. Collins is a highlight, just one of several aging astronauts with enough of their Right Stuff swagger softened to make their recollections more personal and potent. Director David Sington weaves their interviews through Apollo footage now so well-known as to be nearly invisible in other contexts, but here it resonates anew with the realization of what it actually is: scenes from a dangerous and unprecedented voyage to an alien world.
Even if you don’t know the history of the space program, you may notice some gaps and elisions in the narrative. Apollo 9 and 10 are not mentioned at all, and the unbelievable drama of the crippled Apollo 13’s return home is brushed by in a couple of minutes; this is one DVD where the deleted scenes are a must for the full story. The most bittersweet regret here, though, has less to do with the film and more to do with the fact that Apollo once made it seem like we were just getting started.