Sundance Review: Apollo 11

Score: A

Director: Todd Miller

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rated: N/A

Much more than an anniversary commemoration, Apollo 11 is one of the most astonishing documentary achievements ever. That’s appropriate, considering the first moon landing is among the most astonishing human achievements ever.

Culling thousands and thousands of hours of audio and video preserved by NASA and the National Archives, Todd Miller has assembled the full Apollo 11 mission from launch to landing to re-entry, in a brisk 90 minutes. He doesn’t have a single talking head or new interview, strictly using the various sources he had and having his crew restore them to their full beauty.

Just like the mission itself, this was a massive team effort, as professional lip readers helped match audio to unsynced video of engineers in Houston, launch site personnel in Florida, and the astronaut trio up in space. All the 16mm, 35mm and even 70mm reels were scanned in 4K and restored, so much of the footage looks like it was shot yesterday. That much of it looks so crystal clear helps it feel not like history we weren’t around for, but an awe-inspiring achievement that’s just as impressive today as it was 50 years ago.

While this film is part of Neon’s deal with CNN Films, seeing it at home simply won’t do it justice. In a theater, the massive explosion it took just to get this behemoth off the ground simply isn’t as impressive on a TV with standard audio. Learning that the spacecraft and launchpad weren’t assembled at the launch site, but all that hulking metal was wheeled over to it isn’t as breathtaking on a computer screen.

What Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, and the entire NASA crew made happen should be celebrated all these decades later. Todd Miller, Ben Feist and his whole team have given them the best possible tribute. Too many of you slept on First Man. Don’t miss the real thing.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.