Scenes at NASA headquarters, as the first astronauts bunny hop over the surface of the moon, appear solidly square and old fashioned, even more so than Ron Howard’s cinematic recreation of Apollo 13’s “problem”. Men with crew cuts, wearing ties, even smoking (gasp! horror!), sit in serried ranks opposite large TV screens in what might have been a renovated aircraft hanger, devoid of interior decoration and taut with repressed emotion. Even the astronauts’ attire, with its goldfish bowl headgear, looks like something out of a children’s comic.

Al Reinert’s documentary, edited down from hundreds of hours of footage, filmed mostly by the astronauts themselves, was first shown 20 years ago and has been reissued for the UK DVD market in Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series. The timing is perfect, with talk of Mars exploration and the discovery of ice on the moon, as NASA resurrects itself in a brand new century as America’s next best thing. After decades of increasingly sophisticated sc-fi movies, you have to pinch yourself to believe that what you are witnessing is not a clever fake. The magnificence of a blue-tinged earth against the backdrop of opaque blackness, photographed from the moon’s orbit, is breathtaking, as is the clarity of the Saturn rocket taking off like something stupendously silver, fired from the flames of Hades, into a sun-soaked sky.

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What is refreshing and surprising, considering Neil Armstrong’s oddly phrased pronouncement on being first to set foot upon the grey dust of what was once thought to be cheese, is how much fun these astronaughties are having. They fool around in the weightless playpen of the capsule like little kids and once upon the surface cannot resist indulging in bouncy bouncy games, in which they tumble and fall like numpkins on a trampoline, forgetting that “if you spring a leak out there, you’re dead”.

Going to the moon is beyond the comprehension of gravity’s children and when it happened and continues to happen in real life the technology seems out of this world and too dangerous to contemplate. Reinert’s film, too important to miss, chronicles the future in the past, man’s progress in space before war and politics cut its budget and ambition. Is it the simplest of truths, or irony’s bitter bargain, that appreciation of earth’s unique qualities are best experienced on a dead planet, where flags don’t flutter because there is no wind?

Reviewed on: 18 Nov 2009
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For All Mankind packshot
The astronauts who walked on the moon film themselves.
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Director: Al Reinert

Starring: Jim Lovell, Russell Schweickart, Eugene Cernan, Michael Collins, Charles Conrad, Richard Gordon, Alan Bean, Jack Swigert, Stuart Roosa, James Irwin, Kenneth Mattingly, Charles Duke, Harrison Schmitt, Buzz Aldrin, Bill Anders

Year: 1989

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: US


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Apollo 13
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