Thursday, August 27, 2009


To my surprise, this documentary about the 12 human beings who have been to the moon and back is directed by British producer/director David Sington. This nifty little film not only captures a very American feeling about our amazing accomplishments in space so many decades ago, but also does a fine job reminding us what national unity and pride feels like. Ever since the post-9/11 ... love fest ... ended (around the time Bush started talking about invading Iraq), our country has forged a divide so deep, you think it may never close up.

(Also funny how the post-2008 election love fest has fizzled, adding to that divide, now that Republicans are remembering what it feels like to be in the minority: not fun, and kinda scary when you have no power. But I sure hope those who are getting so riled up figure out how to get along, and turn down the rhetoric and the stretching of truth, and leave the guns at home. Talk about scary.)

Where was I?

Oh, yeah, national unity. In The Shadow of the Moon leaves you with a nice feeling, and when you’re gathering up the popcorn bowls and putting the pillows back on the sofa, it has you imagining some new goal, or mission, that the U.S. could embark on to pull us back together. Something universally desired, attainable, admirable.

As thoughts like “eradicate world hunger” and “wipe out illiteracy” whoosh through your pea brain, you find yourself wondering, “Uh, what did getting onto the moon actually do for humankind that was so great?”

And then you banish that thought, as suddenly as it appears.

Where would we (any of us) be without curiosity and exploration driving us to do crazy things like walk on the moon? Where would we be if we simply didn’t possess a desire to know what’s next, what’s beyond, or what is possible?

Ok, pyschological mumbo-jumbo aside, here’s what you want to know: this is a beautiful film, one that focuses on giving our hero astronauts ample opportunity to look back and tell us how it felt, what they were thinking at the moment of lift-off, or landing. They’re all intensely likable and easy to listen to. Unfortunately, Neil Armstrong is pretty reclusive these days, and declined to participate, which just seems crazy; he was the first human to touch moon dirt! (The weight and importance of that does not escape the others, and it’s briefly discussed and recognized as being quite a burden to carry.) The sense of awe that many of these men express about their experience is palpable; one proclaims, with no shortage of wonder in his voice, “I spent three days of my life on the moon ... that’s just ... science fiction!”

Original footage has been lovingly restored and touched up, and the visuals are brilliant. The moonscapes and earthscapes -- as well as the joyful first moonwalk footage -- should impress any kid (you just need to remind them it’s real). There is also tragedy (three astronauts perished in the tragedy of Apollo 1), but the film is mostly a celebration of everything that went right on the nine missions that put men on the moon.

If you haven’t started your kids on documentaries yet, this is a good place to start.

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