The Last Man On The Moon


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Last Man On The Moon
"Funny, thoughtful and self-aware, he is a wonderful raconteur with a fabulous turn of phrase."

There have been other Apollo Mission documentaries - most notably David Sington's absorbing In The Shadow Of The Moon - but this time, it's personal. Director Mark Craig strips back 'the science bit' of America's remarkable rush to the lunar surface to put the focus on the last man to leave his footprints there back in 1972, Gene Cernan. That is only part of the story, as Cernan had been involved in the Apollo programme for years and the Gemini Project before it - and he blazed a trail to the Moon's orbit, along with John Stafford and John Young, on Apollo 10 that was a dummy run for Neil Armstrong's historic giant leap for mankind.

As any child will tell you though, the tale is only part of it, because it's the storyteller that really brings it alive - and Craig has hit the jackpot with Cernan. Funny, thoughtful and self-aware, he is a wonderful raconteur with a fabulous turn of phrase. "I was dizzier than a grasshopper," he says recalling the tests he underwent before he was signed up to NASA and describes his younger self as believing he was "invincible and bullet-proof" in the days when he used to land planes on aircraft carriers. Craig weaves together the story of Cernan's life, mixing often poetically shot footage of Cernan now - crisply captured by Tim Cragg - with archive film that looks so fresh it's hard to believe how many years have passed since the moon missions and a judicious use of CGI and re-enactment.

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There's also a lovingly crafted animated segment by Creative Nuts, drawn in a style that recalls the Sixties and Seventies work of Saul Bass, as Cernan recounts the cloak-and-dagger operation that saw him recruited. If Cernan is insightful in retrospect, the archive film is also surprisingly telling, with footage shot of breakfast before blast off showing the crew 'enjoying' apprehension and eggs in a way that would probably never be recorded now.

Craig doesn't just encourage Cernan to talk about the dangers and accidents that were part and parcel of the job, he broadens the scope to interview people close to him, including his first wife Barbara, who reveals the stresses, and sometimes bereavements, experienced by the wives on the ground. "If you think going to the Moon is hard, you should try saying home," she says.

Cernan, along with his buddies, including long-time pal, the fabulous Fred "Baldy" Baldwin, who enjoyably spars with him at various points in the film, paint a picture of the play as well as the work. There's no doubt, as the archive film and photos show, that there was privilege but some of these men lost their lives in pursuit of progress and Craig is mindful of remembering that, with the stories of tragedy still very hard for this tight-knit group of friends to recall.

Those looking for technical minutiae may feel let down, but if you're interested in an intimat history of the Apollo missions and the emotional impact on those who made them, then you'll love taking an orbit through the life of the man who proclaims himself "the luckiest human being in the world".

Reviewed on: 06 Apr 2016
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Astronaut Gene Cernan looks back at his life on and off the planet.
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Director: Mark Craig

Writer: Eugene Cernan, Mark Craig

Starring: Eugene Cernan, Barbara Cernan Butler, Alan Bean, Fred Baldwin, Charles Duke, Richard Gordon, Christopher Kraft, Gene Kranz, Jim Lovell

Year: 2014

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK


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