Apollo 11 4K UHD

APOLLO11AThis was one of my most anticipated titles of 2019- coming on the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, when I heard about it early this year,  I figured it would be a great film to watch and celebrate the event. Alas, the vagaries of independent distribution resulted in those of us on this side of the pond missing out, with the disc release delayed until November while our Stateside cousins enjoyed the Blu-ray release in time for the Big Day.

A few months ago though came a surprising development- it was announced that the film would be getting a 4K UHD release as well as on the usual DVD/Blu-ray formats, a rare situation of us getting a better release (many reviews of the R1 Blu-ray remarking on the odd mystery of there being no 4K disc at the time of that release). So hey- maybe it would be worth the wait after all.


Well, it would appear that this 4K release isn’t as perfect as might have been hoped. A pink push is evident and the HDR a little overblown in sections, although to be honest, when I watched it unaware of any issues I just put it down to the period film-stock, and it certainly looks very 1960s with those over-saturated colours so familiar from films from the period (I’m thinking stuff like The Prisoner tv series on Blu-ray). There just seemed something oddly authentic about it.

I delayed writing this post because I intended to watch the Blu-ray disc of the film to compare how it looks but I’ve not had the time to give it a spin, so I’m afraid I’ll have to write a subsequent post when I have done so. Apparently these issues with the HDR is shared with all 4K editions, whether on this disc or on streaming and downloads so its inherent in the master supplied to all vendors. Its certainly odd and would appear to be a result of all the different film-stock sources being used in the film being given the same HDR pass. I cannot understand why this issue wasn’t raised during the films theatrical presentations as I would imagine they would use this same 4K master, but perhaps not- I gather that 2K does surprisingly seem the norm with many theatrical presentations now.

What I can say is that to my eyes the film looked pretty spectacular in 4K, with immense detail in sections (the film is put together from numerous sources, 16mm, 35mm and 65mm and even 70mm, the latter formats obviously demonstrating a huge step up in quality that takes the breath away). I was hugely satisfied with the disc, and having seen countless docs using NASA footage of the landings etc its the best-looking one I have ever seen (maybe the Blu-ray, minus the HDR,  looks even better, go figure. Thankfully its in the same box so there’s a win-win of sorts).

At any rate, I didn’t want to delay my review of the film itself any longer, because this film is just amazing and brilliantly well done. Its basically a successor to Al Reinert’s already pretty definitive film about the Apollo missions, For All Mankind, which assembled footage from the various moon missions into a compendium of a trip to the moon, using just that footage and  recollections by the Astronauts supplemented by a wonderfully evocative score by Brian Eno. For Apollo 11 Todd Douglas Miller and his team takes this approach just a step further, using footage (mostly) from just that one mission, and using a soundtrack of  ‘in the moment’ NASA recordings taken from the communications loops  that has been painstakingly restored and matched to the visuals assembles it in a riveting ‘you are there’ docudrama.

apoll11bIts fascinating, its uplifting, its intimidating… the film does offer new insights on the sheer scale and ambition of the endeavour, and the knowledge all of this was done half a century ago with the technologies of the time just boggles the mind, frankly.

I’ve seen so much footage from the NASA archives on film over the years, including the pretty-much complete Spacecraft Films releases on DVD years ago that dedicated several discs to each individual mission with complete EVAs etc. but Apollo 11 nevertheless has imagery I’ve never seen before, and what I have seen before is presented in unprecedented clarity. Its a marvellous film that perhaps loses some points for not having a soundtrack to match that of Brian Eno in For All Mankind. I suppose it could be argued this film doesn’t need such sonic atmospheres, but I missed it (imagine if the film had sufficient resources that Vangelis had been tasked with scoring it- hell, he’d possibly have even done it for free, he loves all this space stuff and working for NASA).

Likewise if ever a film demanded a proper budget for special features and in particular multiple audio commentaries, this is it- its a terribly wasted opportunity that this disc release fails to have any supplements of any depth. In a sad reflection of how home formats are going, I’ve read that the iTunes version of the film actually does have a commentary track. That’s madness, pure and simple- the collectors who buy discs are those most likely to listen to audio commentaries, not those jocks content with streaming or downloading films. This film should be on physical disc with that track and others- purely as an historical document, especially in this year of all years, the film merited the effort. Maybe a special edition will surface in a few years, but as it is, its a very poor show that demonstrates small-thinking. If a film like this on the 50th Anniversary year of the moon landing does not merit a sizeable budget for supplementary material, then something is terribly wrong.

Agh, here I am bitching about extras when according to most video purists on the web, I should be demanding a disc with a corrected HDR master. Oh well, we’re never happy I guess, although baring some revelation watching the standard Blu-ray, I really do like this 4K disc. I just know a special edition with bumper special features is inevitable at some point down the line as long as physical formats are still around (which is what irks me the most, as there is no guarantee of that, and this might have been our only shot at it).

Brilliant documentary film though. Absolutely brilliant. I only wish there was a three-hour extended edition with shots of all the engineering involved assembling the Saturn V etc…there you go, I’m moaning again. We’re never happy.




6 thoughts on “Apollo 11 4K UHD

  1. Matthew McKinnon

    So here’s a question: if the HDR is bad on this disc, what does it look like if you turn the HDR off on your player or TV (which apparently is possible)?

    Do you then get a highly detailed image with a standard colour palette? It’s something I’ve considered in advance in case a new UHD transfer of a favourite film looks odd.

    I know you’re losing the ‘whistles and bells’ a bit, but with this 70mm footage, it’s still going to look great, right?

    1. You may be right, I’ll have to look into it. The disc does still look great detail-wise, and as far as the HDR goes, it looked overcooked but still worked when I watched the film, it just looked very ‘1960s’ to me, you know, the over-saturated colour. It kind-of worked, in that it felt like something very much of the 1960s. At one point I thought reviewers ranting about how bad the disc is were expecting it to look contemporary and modern, forgetting that its all 50 years ago, fashions and colours were all very different back then. I suspect that might even actually be a part of the problem, if they are comparing it to, say, modern docs like Blue Planet etc.

      Now, I’m fairly confident that when I watch the standard Blu-ray I may see the error of my judgement, and sure, a 4K player or TV will always upscale the 1080p picture to something resembling 4K, but it can’t really match what the 4K disc itself does with all the detail.

      The problem with HDR is that it crushes the blacks and blows out the whites when its mastered wrong, but on the other hand, that kind of thing is sometimes a deliberate choice in the cinematography of some films- an artistic choice if you will, and the documentary nature of the film, the warts-and-all nature of fly on the wall footage, sort of lends itself to that approach. I may actually prefer the UHD to the HD in the end, who knows?

      I just have to watch the damn Blu-ray sometime soon.

  2. I picked up the 4K disc but haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, nor had I heard anything about the colour issues. Frustrating news. Though, with so many 4K transfers looking significantly different to previous DVD/HD masters, I’m never sure if we’re finally seeing things “as they were meant to be” or if for some reason they’re now suddenly getting loads of transfers wrong.

    I read a stat the other day about how many cinema screens are actually 4K — I wish I would remember the number, but it was shockingly low. I guess cinemas spent so much money and effort upgrading for 3D that they have no intention of doing it again, especially when your average punter probably won’t notice. It’s a shame, really; both that cinemas don’t care and neither do audiences — we’re paying a premium for the theatrical experience nowadays, that should include excellent picture quality!

    1. Considering that I can buy a film on disc -sometimes even a new 4K one- for the same price as Claire and I going to the cinema and putting up with variable screen quality and morons distracting with noise/mobile phone screens lighting up the auditorium, its little wonder I’ve only been a few times this year- infact, just three times that I can recall offhand. There are obviously other elements affecting this -work, and Claire’s dad passing away requiring us to spend more time over her moms, but when a film like Joker can’t get my bum in a cinema seat, things are very wrong.

      1. Yeah, there are definitely things I’ve skipped because I knew I’d be buying the disc regardless and it’d look more or less as good, so why fork out twice? The cinema experience has its upsides, but so does the home one. Even at festival screenings this week, where you’d think everyone would be respectful of cinema etiquette, I’ve had rustling food, phones going off, people walking out… I’ve also probably enjoyed some films more from seeing them with a packed crowd also enjoying it, mind, so swings and roundabouts.

  3. Pingback: The 2019 List: November – the ghost of 82

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