Fly Me to the Moon, Baby! Spaceman Documentary Recalls—Just Imagine!—A Hopeful, Helpful America

sarris apollo11nixon1v Fly Me to the Moon, Baby! Spaceman Documentary Recalls—Just Imagine!—A Hopeful, Helpful AmericaIN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON
Running time 100 minutes
Directed by David Sington
Starring Jim Lovell, Dave Scott, John Young and others

David Sington’s In the Shadow of the Moon moved me to the extremes of nostalgia, regret and outright admiration as no other movie has moved me this year, even though—or perhaps because—it is a mere documentary, or as I have always preferred to designate this too often dismissed cinematic category, a nonfiction film. Mr. Sington is well-served by his many collaborators, particularly 10 of the surviving astronauts who once (it now seems like an eternity ago) actually walked on the moon and gazed upon the earth as a beautiful but fragile presence in the vast universe. Mr. Sington and his producers, Duncan Crisp, Chris Riley and Ron Howard, made a brilliant decision at the outset to confine all the narration and commentary to the astronauts themselves, aged as they have become in the almost four decades since their heroic feats. For much of the time in the film they are rendered in eloquent, enormous close-ups that take the camera lens as close as it can ever come to the human soul.

NASA did the rest by releasing staggering amounts of never-before-seen footage not only of the flights themselves, but also of the incredible inventiveness involved and the fantastically varied hazards that were overcome for these first—and, sadly, perhaps the last—manned voyages to the moon. But make no mistake about it: It was the Russians who made us do it, and I very much doubt that the hordes of Islamic terrorists will ever motivate us and NASA to plunge even further into space, even so far as Mars. NASA and the United States have neither the will nor the money to go skyward with any confidence.

For the record, the 10 truly grizzled savants from outer space are Jim Lovell, Dave Scott, John Young, Gene Cernan, Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Edgar Mitchell and Harrison Schmitt, all rendered in high definition video by cinematographer Clive North. Mr. Sington and his editor, David Fairhead, crisply cut all the footage painstakingly assembled from NASA files by his original producers, Norman Crisp and Chris Riley.

Curiously, the film’s roster of moon astronauts does not include Neil Armstrong, actually the first man to step on the moon, on July 20, 1969, with, in his own words, “one small step for man,” thus universalizing his experience for all the people of the world in a spectacle televised around the globe. Still, though Mr. Armstrong does not participate in this film, the tributes from his fellow astronauts, and the actual images of the event, make him come alive for us as the self-created everyman of moon exploration, a marvelously modest, non-narcissistic and stoical representative of our species.

Perhaps if we had found oil on the moon NASA could still get all the funding it needed to return. Not that the 60’s and 70’s were all wine and roses, as the film amply reminds us. But anyone who lived through that period of tumult, an unpopular war and multiple political assassinations may be forgiven for forgetting how short a time the inhabitants of this planet looked up to and admired the United States for embracing, through Mr. Armstrong’s words, all of mankind in its conquest of space. It had never happened before, and it certainly hasn’t happened since. Everyone should see In the Shadow of the Moon for its artistically inspiring reminder of what Tom Wolfe described as the “right stuff” of which real heroes like the lunar astronauts were made.