(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Never-before-seen footage of the Apollo space program and interviews with nine astronauts give new life the story of how the US put men on the moon. Personal interviews with several astronauts tell much more than most of us have known about the adventure and experience of going to the moon. This is an enthralling documentary even if you have seen the story told before. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

I would guess that in my lifetime I have seen what must be fifty different retellings of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. I have to say that the prospect of seeing yet another new retelling of Charles Dickens's story is just not greatly exciting to me. On the other hand, the story of the Apollo mission to land on the moon I have seen not nearly as many times. People have questioned whether that story of the space program really needs another retelling. If the story gives me new information that is compelling, my answer is yes. To me IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON is at once more real and more compelling than previous attempts at the same material. So the idea of a new telling with so much photographic footage that has not been seen before is worth seeing. In IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON British director David Sington pieces together some familiar footage and some footage never seen publicly before. With insets of explanations by nine astronauts who actually have been to the moon, it tells the experience of being in the Apollo space program and the effort to put men on the moon.

As the film reminds us, the Apollo mission took place in troubling times. We were fighting the Vietnam War, which had a supposed goal to stave off all of Southeast Asia going communist. There was the frightening prospect of nuclear war with the Soviets. There were a lot of possible futures and some were not very inviting. But the people of the space program were working to make possible a much more positive and exciting future. It was the idealistic future we had read about in science fiction that included the adventure of space exploration. This effort to reach the moon was "great" in just about every meaning that word has. It was making our country great when racial tension and a badly fought war was bringing us down. The subtext of IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON is that perhaps it is time to be great like that again.

Think about it. The solar system has almost nine planets and maybe a couple more further out. But Earth has the largest moon in proportion to its size in the solar system we know of. The pair of Earth and its moon is, in fact, nearly a double planet. Without the presence of a big moon advanced life could not have evolved. The moon has had a vital role in the formation of conditions on Earth. And from 1968 to 1972 some people were privileged to actually go to this near planet. Using new footage, some of it fairly rough, IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON shows us what it was like to go to the moon. And it has eyewitness accounts by astronauts who have actually gone to the moon. They may not have actually been on the Apollo 11 flight itself, but their experiences have been very similar. So this is probably the most complete telling of what it was like to go to the moon: what did it feel like? What thoughts went through the minds of the men as they prepared to ride and then did ride these giant rockets that took them to another celestial body. The story is familiar from documentaries on PBS and at museums takes on whole a whole new feeling when seen from different eyes.

The film is mostly the story of the Apollo project from inception to the Apollo 11 mission in which Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. However, in the interview insets with Jim Lovell it also tells a little of what had to be done to save the three astronauts on Apollo 13. Since the moon astronauts have a great deal of commonality of experience, their reactions to their own missions apply in large part the to Apollo 11 mission also. Participating in the interviews are Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins from that mission and Alan Bean, Gene Cernan, Charlie Duke, Jim Lovell, Ed Mitchell, Harrison Schmitt, and Dave Scott. Notably missing is the now-reclusive Neil Armstrong himself. These men are mostly in their 70s and three moon astronauts are already dead. Their age proclaims the degree to which we have abandoned the exploration of space.

One minor complaint is that after the first few appearances in interview insets, the astronauts are no longer identified by name and frequently one forgets who is it who is speaking. A particular surprise is the presentation of Mike Collins, the Apollo 11 astronaut who had to stay behind in the lunar orbiter. On screen he shows a great deal of personality and wit. But it is a fine opportunity to get to know several of the lunar astronauts and to ride with them to the moon.

IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON is a satisfying documentary I rate a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. By the way, the claim is false that no science fiction writer foretold that the whole world would be watching when the first man landed on the moon. In fact the comic strip Alley Oop portrayed it just that way.

Film Credits:

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper