I had no real intention of getting swept up in the 50th anniversary until I caught the final part of SBS’ three part documentary Chasing the Moon (available on SBSOnDemand). Then, reading the magazine part of the Age a week late, as is my wont, I read Stephanie Bunbury’s review of Apollo 11. “Let’s go see this!” I said. And so we did.
This documentary covers the nine days of the lunar launch, using only contemporary sources. There are no talking heads, and no analysis. The footage comprises material sourced from other countries (because NASA had taped over its own records of the moon landings) and a huge unprocessed collection of large-format 70 millimetre film that had been sitting in cold storage. There was also a huge cache of 11,000 hours of audio recordings taken from the headsets of mission personnel.
It starts with excerpts of Kennedy’s 1962 promise to put a man on the moon, and it shows people gathering with their campervans and sunglasses to watch the launch. Once Saturn is launched, the action moves to inside the control room and the lunar module. There is no explanation – you just watch it happen, and even though we all know how it ended, I found myself holding my breath as the various stages unfolded.
It is a visual experience, and having seen it, I decided to listen to BBC’s 13 Minutes to the Moon, which is a completely aural experience. I have two regrets: first, I think I would have enjoyed the movie even more had I listened to the podcasts first, and second I wish I had seen it at IMAX.