In July 1969, the space race ended when Apollo 11 fulfilled President Kennedy's challenge of "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth". No one who witnessed the lunar landing will ever forget it. Al Reinert's documentary For All Mankind is the story of the twenty-four men who traveled to the moon, told in their words, in their voices, using the images of their experiences. Forty years after the first moon landing, it remains the most radical, visually dazzling work of cinema yet made about this earthshaking event.
The heroic, historic Apollo moon missions that put human beings on the moon are boiled down, expertly capsulated, and presented as one in Al Reinert's "For All Mankind". By editing together bits and pieces from the nine Apollo missions that were launched between 1968 and 1972 (as well as a few shots from later Gemini missions), director Al Reinert has fabricated a stirring and ultimately poignant saga of passion, perseverance, and power and remains one of the most engrossing documentaries of human endeavor and achievement ever committed to film. Criterion released the film years ago (it's #54 in their series), but this is a brand new high definition transfer. It is not to be missed.
Much of the footage in this compelling documentary has never before been seen, previous network television and film documentary seeming to dwell on the same few pieces of historic footage only. Thus, from the very start there is a freshness and vivacity to the imagery that's immediately captivating. To keep concentration fully focused on the images, there are no subtitles identifying the various astronauts or missions (though the Criterion disc does has a switch that the viewer can turn on to identify the persons on-screen if he wishes). And thus, the mission with its breathtakingly powerful launch, the fun in space, the snafus, the moon escapades (including some mishaps there as well which could have been life threatening), and the return trip are all captured in a variety of color and black and white footage that is simply amazing.
Reinert also doesn't use the talking heads approach to documentary filmmaking. The astronauts' voices are heard on the soundtrack describing their movements, their memories, their joys and fears during the flight, but there is never anything inserted to draw attention away from the film footage which, in the director's opinion, deserves to be seen without interruption. His decisions were certainly right on the money, too, because the film is as moving and impressive as it's possible for such a short, concise film to be. The achievement of reaching the moon in less than a decade after President Kennedy threw down the gauntlet in 1961 still seems unbelievable, and when one remembers all of the civil unrest that our country went through in the years leading up to Armstrong's unforgettable "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" declaration, the accomplishment today seems even more fantastic.
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