If you think sheltering in-place with your family is difficult, imagine spending nine days in a broom closet-sized hydrogen-powered death trap with two co-workers. July 2019 was the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11, so it is only fitting that filmmakers have recently given the subject a fresh look.
Apollo 11 is a documentary made from high-resolution 70mm film footage that was recently discovered. There is no narration, other than audio from the actual mission. And an excellent moody soundtrack from Matt Morton. The quality of the digitally scanned film is stunning – the mission looks like it took place yesterday, not 50 years ago. As of this writing, Apollo 11 is currently streaming on Hulu and you might be able to catch it in IMAX once science museums are reopened from the COVID-19 pandemic.
First Man is a film directed by Damien Chazelle and stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong and Claire Foy as his wife, Janet Armstrong. The film delves into the human side of the first man to step foot on the moon and his family. It begins with Neil’s career as a test pilot flying the X-15 rocket plane through the historic moon mission. When the film was released, there was a lot of media criticism that the movie wasn’t “patriotic” enough because the camera did not linger long enough on the American flag planted on the moon. Alas, I can assure you that the flag is actually included in the film. As an American, I found the film incredibly patriotic and not some kind of exercise in political correctness. But the goals of the Apollo 11 mission were much larger than an exercise of American patriotism. A plaque mounted on the lunar lander reads:
“Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”
And the goals of the filmmakers were larger than simply making a documentary. For most of us, our careers aren’t a matter of life and death. But I think most fathers will relate to Neil Armstrong’s attempts to balance career and family. The standout performance of this film is Claire Foy’s portrayal of Janet Armstrong, Neil’s first wife. Claire Foy, of course, is the Golden Globe winning actress for her performance as the young Queen Elizabeth II in the Netflix series, The Crown (also worth putting in your Netflix queue).
As an aside, there is a second connection between The Crown and the Apollo 11 mission. In Season 3, Episode 7 entitled “Moondust”, the Apollo 11 crew visits Buckingham Palace as part of their world tour. Although an older Queen Elizabeth is played by Olivia Colman and not Claire Foy, the episode provides an interesting slant on the Apollo 11 story as it juxtaposes the historic moon landing with Prince Phillip’s midlife crisis and search for significance.
Apollo 11 is suitable for the entire family. First Man, rated PG-13 in the USA, is a bit intense for younger viewers but still an excellent candidate for family movie night.