In the Shadow of the Moon
Directed by David Sington. (2007, PG, 100 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 21, 2007
For a country such as ours, mired in an unpopular war, beset by environmental woes, apprehensive of the future, and fraught with a deep distrust of our elected leaders, this fine documentary comes as a tonic, an elixir, a restorative that recalls and re-establishes hazy memories of America's finest, boldest hour, when we went to the moon, again and again. British director Sington, a producer for the eminently watchable PBS mainstay Nova, has collected together all of the surviving Apollo astronauts and allowed them to tell the story in their own words as little-seen footage of those heady, Cold War years accompanies their calm and frequently humorous narratives. (Only the famously reticent Neil Armstrong is absent.) It's easy these days to forget that the entire Apollo space program, begun mere months after John F. Kennedy's inauguration, was born of not only fearless test pilots who displayed Tom Wolfe's innate sense of "the right stuff" but also of horn-rimmed eggheads and whiz kids toiling down in Houston, inventing whole the mechanical devices and contraptions needed to let human beings slip the bonds of earthly gravity. Half the time they didn't know what they were doing, literally learning as they went about the daily business of creating a lunar capsule – and everything necessary to get it to the moon – from scratch. (Wisely or unwisely, the film never mentions the key input of Hitler's former V2 rocketeer, Wernher von Braun.) Unlike the hesitant and hamstrung NASA of today, the Apollo program was not canceled outright but instead escalated after the deaths of Virgil Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee in a January 1967 launchpad fire. "That was a bold move," notes astronaut Michael Collins, "but then that was a time when we did bold things." The story (even more so if you weren't around in July 1969) is gripping, eloquent, and powerful stuff, the right stuff right down to its pioneering heart, taking manifest destiny to the stars themselves.