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.

Except…

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.

 

 

Back to the Moon 4: One small step for 4K…

apollo11This came out of the blue (in more ways than one)- I’d gotten the blu-ray pre ordered as the limited cinema engagement of this doc didn’t reach me here, and I had  jealously read reviews/comments from our American cousins of how good both the film looked theatrically and on region-locked blu-ray (it’s already out over there), and then -boom-  there’s this announced earlier this afternoon. Dogwoof, an independent distributor over here, has the rights to this and have deemed it worthy of a 4K UHD release; currently the first such edition in the world. Hope they know what they are doing with HDR etc. Most likely they will source a 4K master from someone that will get released elsewhere too (I have read horror stories of supposed 4K UHD discs that are just upscales and have no HDR metadata encoded at all). If this really does measure up to what it could/should be, then the delay till November etc will be more than worth it. And this will be a fantastic treat some dark wintry November night on my OLED.

I imagine there will be many of our American cousins waking up to this news later rather perplexed and contemplating a double-dip already. Its a crazy world sometimes with some of these releases. This is like the bad old days of early DVD, only in reverse- it used to be us over here getting shafted by staggered distribution and inferior releases.

Armstrong

armArmstrong is a fascinating documentary film about the life of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, and is a welcome companion to Damien Chazelle’s 2018 film First Man that starred Ryan Gosling. That film was rather divisive, likely deliberately so, as it dwelt less on the space program and the mechanics of the Apollo missions and more on Armstrong himself (the film aptly summarised by Mark Kermode as ‘more inner space than outer space’). The problem for First Man was that Armstrong was always a private man, and rather kept his distance from the media, something of a cold fish to anyone outside his inner circle of family and friends. There is a very telling observation in Armstrong that ‘thank God there was no social media back then’, and this resonated with me a great deal. Can you imagine what it would be like, had the first moon landing happened in today’s world? That first man would have been eaten alive by the demands of our modern mass-media world. It was probably bad enough for Armstrong post-Apollo 11, I don’t know how he would have managed to survive something like that now- the demands of the media world today and the added hysterics of social media… it doesn’t bear thinking about. Lacking the dramatic conflicts (albeit largely fictional dramatisation) of films like Apollo 13, First Man initially seemed a cold, distant film, but having seen Armstrong, I think First Man will reward greater on repeat viewing.

Of course the tantalising thing about First Man, and of Armstrong himself, is the sense of mystery about him, because he refused to become a part of the celebrity media circus that he might have been. Part of that mystery, beyond the facts of who he was and his accomplishments, is just how do you survive something like Apollo 11? He became one of the most famous men not just alive, but in all of history- his is a name that will be remembered in the same way as the greatest kings or Pharaohs or the likes of Da Vinci, long after the rest of us, even the most famous people alive today, the musicians or actors or scientists or leaders, are long gone and forgotten.

Which is part of the dichotomy of Armstrong, because although his name will always most chiefly represent all that Apollo achieved, he himself was always clear about his sense of personal good fortune and always referenced all the work of the many thousands of people who got him to the moon. Essentially, of course, being an Astronaut was his job and while its a curious thing to look at it like that, I think it’s important too. He earned his place on Apollo 11 and was ultimately the preferred choice for the first lunar footstep- this was by merit, and he earned it. But it could as easily been someone else through some other twist of chance.

Review: ‘Armstrong’ examines the man behind the moon landingThis documentary has input from his family and freinds to inform much about Armstrong’s personal life that the public only dimly knew, and features a surprising amount of Super-8mm home movie footage of Armstrong and his family. I also found it interesting how much footage existed of Armstrong’s test-flight days- it’s odd to consider his life was being recorded so early on when its historic value would not transpire until much later. But it’s the fairly candid footage of his home life that fascinates, particularly of the 1960s and how that corresponds to its depiction in First Man, which was actually not far off the mark.

Anyone who recalls the awful voiceover on the theatrical version of Blade Runner will be amazed by the excellent narration here by Harrison Ford, who reads speeches and personal letters by Armstrong allowing us to hear the man’s thoughts and insights. Its extremely well read by Ford, infecting it with considerable nuance through pauses and inflection of voice.

On the whole I’d suggest this is a well-balanced and informative film, that tells us a great deal about the man and his achievements without falling into the trap of awe and idolising him. While to some extent Armstrong remains something of a mystery (there always seems to be something ‘unknowable’ about him, so frustrating in First Man) there is some achievement here in distancing the human being from the event that would dominate his life and his place in history.

Back to the Moon

Hey, here’s some topical news I thought I’d mention here as we’re approaching a certain special anniversary this July 20th- NASA has today successfully tested their Orion spacecraft’s launch abort system, an important stage towards its goal of returning to the moon. What I found really interesting is the schedule they have in place, which currently has NASA returning to the moon by 2024. Which really isn’t that far away when you think about it.

orion

Orion looks similar to the Apollo capsule, but this is deceptive- it is larger, able to carry four crew rather than Apollo’s three, and thanks to an array of solar panels will be able to stay in orbit for months at a time. An unmanned test of the hardware will be repeated by a manned mission that will take its astronauts on a long orbit around the moon that will last about 25 days – a far cry from the 8-day period of Apollo 11 or the 12-day period of the final Apollo 17. This is clearly a ‘bigger, further, longer’ equivalent of the Apollo 8 mission, and I cannot see details of an actual  lunar lander other than this non-NASA link here so I suspect any lunar landing will be later.

I have seen reports of a Lunar Gateway, which is a planned space station orbiting the Moon and used as a bridge between the lander vehicle and the Orion capsules travelling to/from Earth, and also serving as an eventual launchpad to Mars. Heady stuff. Just thinking about a space station out there brings to mind Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and while the Lunar Gateway is obviously much smaller, I have to marvel at the sheer ambition of it; to my mind still the stuff of science fiction movies, but you never know.

Apollo was certainly ahead of its time and the technology we had; maybe the tech has finally caught up with the ambition of landing on the moon and the grand vision of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Such a pity both Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke aren’t here to see it – but I hope I’m still young enough to be around to see it myself…

Whats coming in July

Hey, welcome to July- and it’s going to be an interesting month, so I thought I’d add a post that looks ahead.

armOf course, the big thing this month (other than my wife’s birthday, hey, I know what’s most important) is that we going to have the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and as something of a space nut, it should indeed be a pretty fascinating time. So expect to see me post another look at First Man on 4K UHD, and review the documentary Armstrong on Blu-ray that’s due in a few weeks. Unfortunately, the widely-praised documentary Apollo 11 recently released on disc in America is region-locked, and its limited run in cinemas currently doesn’t include one near me, so I have to wait for its November disc release over here (unless I get pleasantly surprised by an airing on tv, as you never know with these things). I’m really excited about HBO’s brilliant series From the Earth to the Moon getting a HD release shortly, and really, really excited that it appears to have been properly remastered with a Dolby Atmos track and new visual effects shots. As I remarked awhile ago, the old DVD I have looks pretty much unwatchable, especially on an unforgiving OLED panel, so having this show in a great release is more than I could have hoped for, really.  You never know, if whispers are to be believed, we might even be getting a proper soundtrack set too, something which I’ve been wishing for since, well, I first saw the show back in 1998 (if I remember correctly, the show’s original dvd release in old-fashioned 4:3 was also my very first international purchase on the internet). I also intend to dust off some of the Spacecraft Films DVDs that I have, particularly the Apollo 11 set.

The same day that Armstrong and From the Earth to the Moon land on disc, so too does Captain Marvel, which I missed during its theatrical release. I’m curious to see what I think of it, as I gather it got a mixed response from fans (something also apparently true of Spiderman: Far From Home, making me wonder if the bubble is finally bursting for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, considering I had such misgivings regards Avengers: Endgame). The following week we get Alita: Battle Angel, which I saw back in February– I enjoyed it enough to have ordered the 4K release, so maybe I’ll post a review of how it looks at home, and see if I’m still hoping for a sequel.

gloryBeyond that, July 29th sees the release of Glory in 4K UHD and Chernobyl, the HBO/Sky limited series that everyone at work has been raving about. I guess those will be reviews posted in August.

Now, anybody who had the curiosity to read my post summarizing June will have noticed that I have reached 83 in my tally of ‘new’ film/television experiences. I also have a fair few items already waiting to be watched- films like The Nun, Rampage, Zathura, Lady Bird, Unsane, all kinds of stuff piling up on the Tivo or on Netflix/Amazon, and I really want to catch up with the second seasons of Star Trek: Discovery and Stranger Things.

But I really do think it’s time to go back and rewatch some of the discs/films that I’ve seen before that I just, well, kind of miss. I’ve quite enjoyed my (albeit limited so far) series of posts rewatching films from 1989 that are currently getting anniversary releases, and I’d certainly like to continue with that more, to which end I’ve got the 4K UHD release of Field of Dreams on the way and Spielberg’s Always on Blu-ray sitting on the shelf. So if all goes to plan, I will likely refrain from watching too many ‘new’ films in favour of going back and revisiting some of those oldies over July and August. If only to maintain my sanity. Good lord I’ve been watching some rubbish lately.

Part of that of course will be my rewatch of From the Earth to the Moon, so yeah, I hope to relax with some od favourites over the summer.

Unfortunately, this month is also the month of Wimbledon, and anyone reading this blog over the years may remember Claire is a big fan of Wimbledon and commandeers the television for the tournament, usually relegating me to Wimbledon Widower status, so it’s anybody’s guess how much of this stuff I have planned that I’ll get to watch this month all this month… Possibly none of the above. Hey ho.