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Film Review – 'In the Shadow of the Moon'

"It was a time when we made bold moves."
--James Lovell, Apollos 8 and 13

Countless documentaries have attempted to capture theessence of what it was like to fly to the moon during the glory days of theApollo program. Some have been fairly successful, but usually still feature thestandard talking heads and grainy umpteenth-generation film footage. Onenotable previous exception was Al Reinert's 1989 work, "For All Mankind."This was the first attempt to get Apollo footage onto a large theater screen,and is regarded favorably by most who had the opportunity to see it in that format.

Now, nearly 20 years later, we finally have a worthysuccessor in David Sington's "In the Shadow of the Moon." Unlike somuch that has come and gone before, Sington has reinvented the Apollodocumentary format. Where the earlier film left us wanting much more, this timearound we finally get that which we've been waiting for so long. Beautiful andrarely seen footage has been taken from the archives at NASA, transferred tohigh-definition video, and given new life in a way never before imagined.

A large failing of Reinert's film was that he glossed overthe launch phase of the largest rocket booster ever to successfully fly:namely, the SaturnV. Sington, on the other hand, does the Saturn V proud. Numerous pieces oflaunch footage, including the spectacular top-of-the-gantry, wide-angle camerafrom the Apollo 17 night launch in December 1972, are highlights of Sington'ssuperb film.

Getting off the Earth was just the beginning. We follow thejourneys of the astronauts as they cross cislunar space, drop down onto thatforbidding surface, conduct scientific experiments that have laid thefoundation for our present understanding of our place in the universe, thenblast off the moon to return to Earth. Yet even then, the journey is justbeginning.

Speaking with numerous moon voyagers ? at least one fromeach Apollo lunar mission ? we hear their thoughts and feelings about theirapocryphal experiences. These are not glossed-over propaganda statements, butheart-felt and honest reminiscences from these astronauts, giving us insightsthat have never before been the subject of a space documentary.

We start with a statement by Apollo 16 astronaut CharlieDuke. He tells us how his father was of the era that had a hard time believingthat anyone could voyage off this planet ? especially his own son ? but thenCharlie? tells us of his son and how walking on the moon is just "no bigdeal."

Not only do we get to see this Apollo footage as it hasnever been seen, and get to hear the astronauts express themselves as neverbefore, but they have gone one step further by marrying the sound and film fromMission Control. We are all so familiar with the words spoken by Neil Armstrongas he stepped onto the dusty lunar surface, and the voice from Mission Controlthat answers him (Charlie Duke), so it may come as a surprise that all filmfootage inside Mission Control was silent. The producers found the audio loopsand painstakingly matched the voices to film for the first time ever. This is amemorable feat that may go unnoticed by many viewers, but from a historicalperspective, it is a welcome show of the diligence of the filmmakers of "Inthe Shadow of the Moon."

Gene Cernan spoke of going "into darkness after beingin daylight the whole time ? and we're in the shadow of the moon."

Cernan's comment lent Sington the title of his movie, and itis a perfect one. Cernan has proven himself one of the most eloquent writersand speakers on his experiences. He tells us of what he thought when he heardPresident Kennedy commit America to a moon landing in less than a decade: "Hechallenged us to do what I think most people thought was impossible, includingme."

And yet, Gene saw the dream Kennedy presented to our nationand hopped aboard for several memorable flights, including as commander of thelast Apollo flight to touch down on the moon, Apollo 17.

Jim Lovell is now most famous for being the commander of theill-fated Apollo 13, but few remember he was also aboard the first flightbeyond the confines of the Earth's gravity, and into that of the moon, Apollo8. He tells us, "Just from the distance of the moon, you can hide theEarth behind your thumb, everything that you have ever known; your loved ones,your business, the problems of the Earth itself, all behind your thumb. Itmakes you consider how insignificant we really are."

Some of the more interesting comments come from an astronautwho never actually walked on the surface of the moon, Apollo11 Command Module pilot, Michael Collins. He tells the audience, "Tome, the marvel of it is that it all worked like clockwork, I almost said 'likemagic.' There might be a little magic mixed up in that big clock somewhere,because everything worked as it was supposed to. Nobody messed up. Even I didn'tmake mistakes. I have a lot of things I can do wrong, but the consequences,should I do them wrong, are going to be immediately obvious to three billionpeople."

Once his mission was complete and their Apollo spacecrafthad splashed down in the Pacific, Collins' first reaction when the frogmenopened the hatch was how beautiful the deep blue water was on planet Earth. Itwas as if he was seeing it as an alien coming from another world, which, in asignificant sense, he was.

The timing of this movie's release is perfect in that itwill be entering theaters around the country close to the 50th anniversary ofthe first-ever spaceflight (Sputnik 1). Serendipitous, to be sure, andhopefully the general public will take note and head for their theaters torelive, or see for the first time, what this magnificent adventure to anotherworld was all about.

I have often talked of the fact that I was privileged to bewitness to the beginning of the space program and the first human to walk onanother world, but that those born afterward have had nothing of comparison intheir lives. Moon landings are a few pages in the history books for them; theynever were able to register the gut feeling of watching this happen in realtime so many decades ago. With "In the Shadow of the Moon," everyonealive today will get at least some of the feelings those of us of the Apollogeneration got to feel first hand.

What better way to inspire the new generation for our returnto the moon and subsequent expansion into the cosmos than by giving them a shotof adrenaline from the pioneers who first took us there.

Six-time astronaut and Apollo16 moonwalker, John Young puts some of this in perspective when he tells usof his view from space. "There's a lot of things like urban pollution, andyou can see that when you hit orbit now. You can see that big cities all havetheir own set of unique atmospheres. We ought to be looking out for our kidsand our grandkids. [Instead] what are we worried about? The price of a gallonof gasoline."

Seeing our Earth from space, then moving beyond that, is oneof the best ways to understand our home planet and to make it safe for futuregenerations. After all, it was the views from space in the 1960s and early1970s that launched the environmental movement. Without Apollo, would we havethe global perspective we enjoy today? Only when you can block out an entireworld of billions of people with your thumb, as Jim Lovell told us, can wetruly see what we have to deal with.

"In the Shadow of the Moon" is the perfect primerfor the entire world to tell us all how important space exploration is to ourfuture as a species. Everyone should sit back and enjoy this film for exactlywhat it is, a celebration of Apollo, and also for what spaceflight can aspireto be again.

LarryEvans is the chair of the Orange County Chapter of the National Space Society.

NOTE: Theviews of this article are the author's and do not reflect the policies of theNational Space Society.

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