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Todd Douglas Miller
Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins
Writing Credits:

A look at the Apollo 11 mission to land on the moon led by commander Neil Armstrong and pilots Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.

Rated G.

Aspect Ratio: 2.20:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 93 min.
Price: $34.98
Release Date: 5/14/2019

• “Discovering the 65mm” Featurette
• Trailer & Previews


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Apollo 11 [Blu-Ray] (2019)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 16, 2019)

50 years after Americans first set foot on the Moon, a fresh look at the subject comes via the 2019 documentary Apollo 11. This program starts on July 16, 1969, in the lead-up to the launch of the mission to the Moon.

From there 11 traces the events in chronological order. This takes the tale through the astronaut’s return to Earth about a week later.

No modern narration accompanies the footage. Instead, we get circa 1969 comments from newscaster Walter Cronkite as well as mission commander Neil Armstrong, command module pilot Michael Collins, and lunar module pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.

While those notes occasionally appear, most of the speech heard during 11 consists of interactions between NASA and the astronauts.

Everyone loves an anniversary, though I don’t recall a ton of Apollo 11 media on the mission’s 25th in 1994. With this documentary, 2018’s Neil Armstrong biopic First Man and other efforts, it feels like the 50th anniversary has gotten a much bigger push than past commemorative moments.

In the case of 11, the big attraction comes from the footage itself. The film uses some 16mm film and video footage for elements in space, but its main appeal comes from the 65mm material that comprises much of its running time.

All involved describe this large format film as “newly discovered”, which then begs the question how such amazing material could sit forgotten in the vaults for nearly five decades. This isn’t some short reel of Super 8 footage, so the photography clearly acted as a major endeavor, one you’d think would’ve been explored well before 2019.

Whatever the case may be, when 11 works, it does so due to the amazing quality of the footage involved. We get an excellent inside view of the events in the most attractive way imaginable, as the film often looks stunning.

Those elements become enough to sustain the viewer across 93 minutes, and the occasional interview comments add a little perspective. However, 11 usually prefers the “you are there” approach, so the interactions between the astronauts and the NASA staff fill most of the movie.

This becomes a mixed bag. On the positive side, I like the immediacy this approach brings, as it places us in the participants’ shoes fairly effectively.

On the negative side, though, 11 can feel a little stagnant without the perspective additional comments would add. Unlike Apollo 13 the following year, the first Moon landing went off without many hitches.

As such, 11 brings us a visual feast with an appealing sense of wonder but not much drama. One can’t help but wish similar footage existed of the Apollo 13 mission, as it’d be fascinating to get the same treatment for that more perilous endeavor.

The decision to omit reflective interviews becomes a drawback because that perspective would contribute needed emotional heft. If 11 gave us insights into what the participants thought and felt during the mission, this would make the end product more dynamic.

Count that as a mostly minor criticism, though, as the visual appeal of Apollo 11 ultimately overrules any complaints. While it doesn’t become the most dramatic documentary you’ll see, the amazing quality of the material it presents more than compensates.

The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus D

Apollo 11 appears in an aspect ratio of :1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became an impressive visual presentation.

As mentioned in the body of the review, 11 used a mix of sources, with the majority from 65mm large format film. We also got some 16mm and video sources.

Unsurprisingly, the weakest moments came from the non-65mm material. The video and 16mm clips suffered from the inherent weaknesses of their formats, so they could be soft, grainy and less than appealing.

That said, the pristine 65mm shots made up for those inevitable deficits in spades. Sharpness worked well, with images that mainly offered terrific delineation. Some softness occasionally stemmed from the nature of the documentary photography and the inability to light the locations, but the material usually seemed tight.

I noticed no signs of jagged edges or moiré effects, and edge haloes failed to materialize. I also saw no print flaws.

As expected, colors tended toward a natural palette, and the movie represented the hues well. The tones generally felt vivid and full.

Blacks looked dark and dense, and shadows worked fine, though the nature of the source could limit visibility. In the end, this was an appealing image that often leapt off the screen.

The movie’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack mixed archival and modern sources, all of which melded together well. The soundfield often concentrated on the front speakers, where we heard well-developed stereo music as well as a solid sense of environment.

The soundscape mainly came to life during the louder mission activities like the launch. These filled the five channels in an engrossing manner and used the spectrum nicely.

Inevitably, dialogue became the weakest link, as most speech came from interactions between NASA and the astronauts. These sounded fine given their limitations.

Music seemed lush and full, while effects came across as accurate and dynamic, with deep bass as necessary. The audio bolstered the visuals well.

A featurette called Finding the 65mm runs two minutes, 54 seconds and includes notes from director Todd Douglas Miller, Final Frame CTO Sandy Patch, Final Frame CEO/founder Will Cox and producer Thomas Peterson.

They tell us about the discovery and restoration of the film footage. A few decent notes emerge, but we don’t learn much.

The disc opens with ads for The Biggest Little Farm and Amazing Grace. We also get the trailer for Apollo 11.

One of the landmark events in human history, Apollo 11 gives us a first-person view of the 1969 Moon landing. I can quibble with some story-telling choices, but the amazing quality of the footage overrules most concerns. The Blu-ray brings stellar visuals and strong audio but it lacks substantial supplements. It’s too bad we don’t get some useful bonus materials, but the movie itself gives us a nice reflection of the lunar mission.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.3333 Stars Number of Votes: 3
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