Sundance 2019: Apollo 11

Apollo 11 launch in July 1969. Courtesy of Neon and CNN Films.

Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11 takes us back to the moon in an impressive way that is enhanced by the film’s music and sound mixing/design.

When a documentary gets released so close to the biopic, one can’t help but compare the films.  For instance, Matt Morton’s electronic score is composed entirely of instruments that existed in 1969.  Let it be stated that we need not compare his work to that of Justin Hurwitz’ brilliant score for First Man–especially that of “The Landing.”  Yet this was one area in which I couldn’t help but pay closer attention.  While Morton does give us some powerful moments, they come at different times in the film.

The events of July 1969 were historic.  Or as one Ren Stevens would say, “We went to the moon in 1969, not 1968 or a year later.”  What President John F. Kennedy could only dream, NASA turned it into reality when a trio of astronauts launched Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969.  Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins were men on a mission.  While Armstrong and Aldrin got all the glory, Collins still had a job to do!

I have to say that Eric Milano’s sound mixing and design is considerably impressive given how much there is to work with.  There were well over 11,000 hours of audio recordings.  This is combined with a discovery of new footage.  All in all, it makes for impressive editing in putting everything together and getting audio to sync up correctly.  One can’t not do this film without the soundbites from noted CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite or even President John F. Kennedy’s speech to Congress in May 1961.

This is a film that simply would not exist without the work of the National Archives and NASA.  Thanks to never-before-seen 65mm footage, we’re able to get this cinematic event.  Combine this with the massive audio–it’s very much a thing of beauty.  The splendor of watching the shuttle take off is one of those inspirational moments.  If mankind can do this, what else can we achieve?

What Todd Douglas Miller has done with this celebratory documentary is truly impressive.  Given how much footage that exists, one can only wonder why this film runs only 93 minutes!  We get glimpses of both the Launch Control Center and Mission Control while also getting a glance at everyone who stopped to watch the launch that day.  It’s quite the different experience from last fall’s First Man.  These are two very different films.  You know how they say you should see a film on the biggest screen possible?  I can definitely say that Apollo 11 must be see on the biggest screen possible!

With the moon landing celebrating 50 years this summer, Apollo 11 brings us the mission in a way that hasn’t been seen before.

DIRECTOR:  Todd Douglas Miller
FEATURING:  Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, JoAnn H. Morgan, Gene Kranz, Charles M. Duke Jr.

Apollo 11 held its world premiere during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Documentary Competition. Grade: 5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.