October 25, 2007

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In the Shadow of the Moon (PG)
Ten astronauts (including Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins) tell the story of going to and (for some) landing on the moon in In the Shadow of the Moon, an awe-inspiring documentary that reminds you just how cool space travel can be.

All due respect to the space shuttles, the international space station, those unmanned missions to Mars and points beyond — there’s just something heart-stirring about seeing other humans actually go to a new world and discover some small part of it. Pictures of deep space are glorious but they can’t match the “our world is small and fragile and like-it-or-not united” sentiments that seemed to strike many of the men who looked back at Earth with their own eyes from the orbit of another celestial body.

This documentary is fairly stripped down — just the former astronauts talking about their experiences, some title cards and lots of archival footage; no interviewer or narrator is heard onscreen. The men tell the story, which starts in earnest with President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to the nation in 1961 to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. His call seems extremely bold by modern standards — presidents either don’t say things like this any more or aren’t believed when they do. Even more unbelievable is that the space program snapped to and started planning to go to the moon. Astronauts were selected, rockets were built, people were trained, everything was improved and then whoosh, one day, moon.

Actually, that’s an extreme oversimplification. The moon voyages were difficult and dangerous and involved a lot of uncertainty. The astronauts don’t talk about being scared so much as being vigilant — there were 100 things that could go wrong at any moment and they had to be ready to tackle them instantly. The documentary really lets you see how the country took an enormous risk in attempting a moon landing and how it all paid off in, as Armstrong said then, a leap for mankind and in a momentary uniting of the world. The astronauts talk about how they went to countries around the globe and how the common reaction was that “we” the human race (as opposed to Americans) had made it to the moon.

“We” haven’t achieved anything quite so obviously monumental as taking steps on a surface outside of Earth’s orbit since then. The documentary awes you with these achievements some nearly 40 years ago and then makes you wistful for a future of similar discoveries. My thought leaving the theater was: Mars, anyone?

In the Shadow of the Moon will remind you of the “ooo, cool” feeling you had as a kid learning about space. Though not really covering new territory, the documentary makes you hungry for information about this part of history. And stick around for the first few moments of the closign credits. The astronauts bat aside any notions of the moon landing having been staged. A

Rate PG for mild language, brief violent images and incidental smoking. Directed by David Sington, In the Shadow of the Moon is an hour and 36 minutes long and is distributed by ThinkFilm. The movie runs through Thursday, Oct. 25, at Red River Theatres in Concord and (according to Amazon.com) could be released on DVD early 2008.