Reviewed by
Chris Galloway

Title: For All Mankind: Criterion (1989)
Studio Line: The Criterion Collection/Home Vision

In July 1969, the space race ended when Apollo 11 fulfilled President Kennedy's challenge of "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." No one who witnessed the lunar landing will ever forget it. Breathtaking both in the scope of its vision and the exhilaration of the human emotions it captures, For All Mankind is the story of 24 men who traveled to the Moon-told in their words, in their voices, using the images of their experiences. Criterion is proud to present Al Reinert's award-winning documentary in a new special edition.

Director: Al Reinert
Cast: Various
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English DD 5.1; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 19 chapters; rated NR; 79 min.; $39.95; street date 2/15/00.
Supplements: Audio Commentary by producer-director Al Reinert and Apollo 17 commander Eugene A. Cernan, the last man to set foot on the Moon; Paintings, with audio Commentary, by Apollo 12 and Skylab astronaut Alan L. Bean; NASA audio highlights and liftoff footage; Optional onscreen identification of astronauts and mission control specialists.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B-/C/A-

When I was younger the one thing I would always fantasize about is walking on the moon. Space in general is something I have always been amazed in and possess an enormous amount of books on the subject. But seeing that it was possible to walk on the moon, I wanted to go up there as well.

Unfortunately that isn't going to happen but that doesn't harm my fascination in space exploration, the planets and the moon. Watching old clips of the moonwalks and footage from inside the ships manage to feed my curiosity. One film I had always been meaning to view, though, was For All Mankind, a documentary on the Apollo missions using actual footage. This was definitely something I would enjoy but I was never able to find a copy of it. I think it appeared on television once but I missed it then as well. Dang!

I was then excited when I heard that Criterion was releasing a DVD edition of the film (Yea!) and I was anticipating it for the summer of 1999. And as usual, Criterion delayed it until September. Then November. Then January and then finally it came out a couple weeks ago (February 15th I believe) and excited, I got my copy. All I was anticipating was wonderful footage of the moon and of space itself. While I got that, I managed to get probably one of the most appealing documentaries I have ever seen. I don't think I've seen a movie that captures the excitement, wonderment and pure exhilaration of any subject like this one does.

During the Apollo missions, cameras and film were taken up and the astronauts took footage of their flight and landings. This footage has basically been locked away somewhere collecting dust and director Al Reinert managed to get his hands on it and put together a film documenting a landing on the moon.

The movie takes footage from all the missions and blends them together giving the illusion of one space flight. The actual commanders on the missions narrate to us their feelings during different stages of the mission. I know for sure, considering my fear of heights that I probably would have been freaking out sitting there in the ship, the cockpit WAY up there. And I'm glad I really am not alone.

In space is when I became completely fixed on the film. One of the curiosities I've had in zero gravity was the bathroom bit and they nicely explain it to us and that sounds like the crummiest part of the trip. And then we get to the part I was waiting for, the landing on the moon. This footage just absolutely amazes me. Some people probably don't see that big a deal in it but I just find it astounding that someone was able to land on the moon and actually walk on it and actually take the little moon buggy out for a stroll.

The film captures the magic of the landing so vividly. You can feel the excitement that the astronauts on the landing must have felt, had to have felt. The images captured are absolutely amazing. One that I just love is where the earth seems to rise over the moon's horizon. Now there's something you definitely don't see everyday (and Criterion even uses that scene on their DVD and Laserdisc cover).

I've never seen a film that held me completely captivated like this one does. Some people may not be as mesmerized as I did, but my absolute amazement with space itself more than likely helped me get so overwhelmed by it. I was hooked and was feeling the same things everyone else must have. Even when it was time to go I was incredibly upset and disappointed.

The film is wonderful and covers an era that held the most important events in human history, which have unfortunately been mostly forgotten. A lot of people don't really understand the grandeur of something like that, how ahead of its time it was. This documentary delivers all these points soundly. For All Mankind is a classic that keeps the memory of this important event alive and should not be missed.

The DVD:

Criterion has made a very good DVD for for the film. This was also released before as a Voyager laserdisc. It's funny because I was in a video store the other day and they were selling a lot of their laserdiscs and they had quite a few Criterion ones and they had For All Mankind there. Kind of cheesed me because I had been dying to see this movie for so long and I never thought of looking through the laserdisc rentals for it. Double Dang! (And now I'm seeing the National Geographic cassette in all the video stores I go to.) Anyways, I took a look at the laserdisc and it looks like just a straight movie disc with no extras that I could see on it. So this DVD definitely has "replacement value" written all over it for people who own the Voyager laserdisc because Criterion has done a wonderful job with it, especially in the supplement area.

The film is presented on a single-sided, dual-layered disc. Since the film was shot with basically regular 16mm film the aspect ratio is standard 1.33:1.

You can't expect much for image from something like this, especially when the stock footage is basically 30 years old and on the most part shot on another planet but I had to give it a fairly good mark because the footage actually looked way better than one would expect. Footage shot on the earth is grainy and spotty. Dirt and debris shows up constantly but stays relatively sharp. Colors are poorly saturated but then it looks as though it was more with the source and not with the transfer.

The stuff on the ship looks a bit worse mostly in the grain and debris department. A rather cool scene involving one of the astronauts floating outside the ship attached to a lifeline looks actually quite good but something appears to have happened to the camera because the frame rate is wrong. That is definitely because of the source.

The moon stuff is actually quite amazing. It's not perfect but for footage shot in 1/6 gravity "way out there" its very good. There is hardly any moment of grain and there are barely any print flaws. The frame rate seems to go out of whack once in a while, but yet again that is because of the camera (apparently they occasionally set it on a lower frame rate to conserve film). These images are quite sharp and the detail is very high as you can make out most of the tiniest little craters on the moon's surface. It also helps that black levels are very strong since black, the color of choice by the void of space, is the dominant color (or "absence of color" as my one art teacher would constantly correct me). I was leaning at C+ range but I had to give it a boost because it still did beat my expectations.

The 5.1 Dolby Surround track is less impressive, it's more of an on and off deal here. I'm not saying its bad, because considering the film itself it is much better than it should be. But it's not the strongest 5.1 surround track out there. Not even close.

I don't know how this movie was presented originally in theaters but I can't imagine it being more than a regular 2-channel presentation. The movie is mono on a whole, most of the narration seeming to come out of the center channel. The music seems to use the forward stage quite well and the surrounds to a nice little effect but I notice no dialogue coming out of any other speaker but the center. Everything can be distinguished, though. Other than in radio transmissions there is no distortion whatsoever.

The sub actually has a bit to do, though. Occasionally low level effects from either the music or something from the movie gives a mild amount of bass. The lift off definitely uses it and I thought it was pretty neat how my room shook when the pod touched down on the moon surface. While it has its moments, it's still not a very impressive or engaging track.

Supplements are great I must say. I wouldn't expect much in supplements for a documentary, especially like this when really all it is is taking (at the time) 20-year-old footage and pasting it together to make a movie. But Criterion beat my expectations and delivered a nice variety of supplements. Not plentiful but definitely good.

First up is a commentary by director Al Reinert and Apollo 17 commander Eugene A Cernan. A commentary for a documentary that basically contains its own commentary seems kind of monotonous I guess as for sure some info is going to be repeated, but it works like an alternate version to the movie. It's a rare Criterion commentary mainly because the two have been recorded together. Reinert covers a lot on the making of the film. He is obviously disappointed that the boys didn't get all the footage they could have (and I don't blame him) but was happy with what he got and what he put together. Thankfully he doesn't have the bulk (the guy sounds too much like Mr. Garrison from South Park I had to control myself from laughing). Eugene carries the weight of the commentary and expands on some of the things pointed out in the movie. Because the film itself covered opinions of so many astronauts not everything was covered. Now we have one single guy explaining everything he felt and experienced (and his absolute shock because he seems he still can't believe he actually walked on the moon) and makes for a smoother listen. He also pointed that he thinks they should start blasting regular people into space to get the attention. Yeah, I thought that was a good idea, too until I saw an episode of "The Simpsons" involving Homer and an Inanimate Carbon Rod being flown into space. But yeah, I guess that is just a cartoon.

Next up on the roster are paintings by astronaut Allan L. Bean. I never figured an astronaut to be artistically inclined since to me their more science driven (and of all the science heavy people I know they have trouble drawing stick people), but this guy is quite talented. He obviously was heavily inspired by his mission and I can't imagine anyone not being inspired. They're all realistic paintings with a little bit of artistic licensing taken (a rainbow appears around the ship in one of the paintings). The paintings can each be sleected from a 3 page menu, about 8 on each and a commentary goes with each, ranging from 30 seconds to 4 or 5 minutes.

There is also some audio and video footage from the NASA archive. The video presents footage of a few liftoffs and there is also audio segments from some of the flights, including the famous "Houston, we have a problem" transmission for the Apollo 13 flight.

A couple subtitles are presented as extras and one of them is apparently the reason why the DVD was delayed for so long. You get your subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired but also do help in translating some of those radio transmissions that don't come in so clearly. You also get another subtitle track that identifies every single person that appears on screen as well as what footage from what flight we are watching. I actually found these annoying and distracting more than helpful. I watched the movie first without them and then went through it with them on. Since the movie is made to look like this is all one mission, it kind of ruins the magic and fun when it's pointed out to us exactly what mission we're watching. But thankfully you have the option to turn them off. They are still a nice extra, though, if you are actually curious as to who is who and what mission is what.

And then you get their usual color bars and booklet written by Al Reinert. I quickly glanced over the back of the laserdisc jacket when I saw it and the booklet appears to have the same thing written in it. One supplement I would have liked to see, though, would be something like another documentary showing the process of getting the film together. That would have been interesting on itself.

In closing I think this DVD is a must have, while audio and video are not up to par compared with other discs, that can be easily blamed on the source material and I can't actually see it looking or sounding much better. But the film itself and the nice little package of supplements are worth adding this little guy to your own collection.

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