Patriotic doc about America’s Astronauts does a great, high school appropriate job unearthing the Moonwalkers from their less than prominent positions in popular culture. Meeting the men who inspired The Right Stuff is as affectionate as it is pedagogical, with just enough “holy mole” moments to feed the sense of awe that keeps these heroes impressive for reasons greater than the technological and physical accomplishment of space travel. Doc played for the Bush Administration in 2007 to acclaim, and Obama will be presenting the surviving Moonwalkers with Medals on the 40th Anniversary of the first televised Moonwalk. The film reaches theatres the same day. One hopes the proximity of the release date to July 4th along with the film’s traditionalist interest in exploring the concept of heroism (particularly in a somewhat modern, technologically overburdened context) will increase attention to the title. Academic distribution is certain.
Hearing the elder Moonwalkers recollect the experience of their surprisingly work intense and rigorously scheduled few hours on the moon’s surface is lovely. Their experience, now 40 years in the past, is reiterated with an enthusiasm and a freshness that makes it feel like last week’s news. The details of the moonwalk, the threat of failure, the risk and the (as the title tells us) “wonder of it all” is the primary interest of the doc, which showcases a strikingly comprehensive array of archival footage. These men, who are accomplished scientists, engineers and pilots are, when viewed through the lens of history, explorers before they are technicians. Today, as patrician old men who speak of the importance of their grandchildren and their current undertakings (which range from public speaking, to designing the next moon module to painting), these men are stately, enlightened heroes.
The challenge put forward by President Kennedy in 1961 to reach the moon (and return home safely) by the end of the decade is ritually repeated as the crew’s “Call to Adventure,” and while that’s got its formally mythic purpose, it’s about as close to a creative formal attribute as the film has. While the subject is inspiring, the stoically educational tack of the film sucks some of the grandeur out of it. Perhaps this represents the subject as sincere and undecorated, but the film sometimes resembles a product of the military in its antiseptic structure and stalwart propriety. One thing is certain and beautiful: the words of the Moonwalkers demonstrate a deeply rooted sense of perspective. These men, men of science who invoke the name of God without consistent devotion, speak with dry words and moist eyes about the utterly humbling effects of seeing the world, literally, from the wide view. The final moments of the film are a record of uplift, a handing of the torch to the next generation, a generation that, even after the derogatory judgments and the lazy GenX culture mongering, is still a source of optimism. That’s the strength of great contributors, the film suggests: what they offer us all is inspiration because of their accomplishments, and that ultimately provides a lasting feeling of hope.
Cast: Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Eugene Cernan, Michael Collins, Charlie Duke, Edgar Mitchell, Harrison Schmitt and John Young
Director: Jeffery Roth
Screenwriter: Jeffrey Roth and Stephen Beck
Producers: Paul Basta, Jeffrey Roth and Gregory Schwartz
Running time: 82 min
Release date: July 21 ltd.