SUNDANCE REVIEW: “Almost Too Beautiful To Be Real” – ‘Apollo 11’ (2019)

“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Perhaps one of the most famous phrases ever said by a human. Apollo 11 puts this iconic moment into context; mapping the journey to the moon using audio and footage that had been stored in the NASA vaults until now.

The documentary is entirely reliant upon this never-before seen 70mm footage and the images are stunning. Almost too beautiful to be real, the heart of the expedition is now visible as both astronauts and those in the mission control centre ensure Neil Armstrong is the first man to step foot on the moon. The journey into space is captured in impressive detail, the footage is remarkable in quality, transporting you right into these moments of human history.

Through a clear lens, Todd Douglas Miller’s film opens the door to the mission control room. The documentary maintains a fluid narrative, devoid of cut-to interviews or a narration interrupting the seamless flow of these images. The archive footage stands alone in its wonderful quality, providing an immersive experience. At times, the screen divides itself, footage shows the actions of the hundreds of individuals who are attempting to ensure these three men make it into space.

an american crowd waiting to witness the launch

“Go for launch!” The demand echoes through the control rooms, with the seconds counting down and the eyes of the world watching. Apollo 11 captures the terrifying yet electric atmosphere of the moment. Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and Neil Armstrong make history, but this footage also delves into the people inside the space suits.

What remains particularly compelling is the sense of humour that is captured in the face of the unknown. “I’ll let you know if I stop breathing” The response given to a concern about an oxygen delivery tube, the comedic spirit humanises the inhuman happening of space travel. Finding a grounding that is innately human: still able to tell jokes and laugh as they prepare to climb down the ladder to step foot on the moon for the first time. The documentary gives personality and life to these events without straying away from the central topic of which it situates itself.

an image of Aldrin taking the first early steps on the moon

There is even footage hand-filmed by Aldrin included that resembles home-video as he tours the space craft. It is the astounding quality of visuals, as well as its unrelenting focus on the staggering sensory experience, that makes Apollo 11 such a thrilling watch. The premise is obviously known, so there’s no plot spoilers in the knowledge that they did, in fact, make it to the moon. Yet Apollo 11 manages to be an outstandingly rare film about space travel that invests in real heart-stopping tension.

Although the film shows the sheer bravery of those three men floating in space, there is also a humble sense of credit shared with those back on the ground. The individuals that made up the collective are displayed as the true backbone in the luna journey. Apollo 11 is a documentary not to be missed.

Apollo 11 premiered at Sundance London and will be released in UK cinemas from the 28th of June.