This 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.
Its 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.