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Space invaders: In the Shadow of the Moon


Buzz Aldrin demonstrates the spacesuits most chic - feature: pockets, everywhere.
  • Buzz Aldrin demonstrates the spacesuits most chic feature: pockets, everywhere.

*In the Shadow of the Moon (PG)

Kimball's Twin Peak

In the Shadow of the Moon offers something rarely, if ever, found in a movie's credits: "Filmed on location on the earth, in space and on the moon."

In fact, some of Shadow's never-before-seen footage, shot by Apollo astronauts, has only come out from the liquid-nitrogen storage facilities at NASA a handful of times since the '70s most recently to be preserved on high-definition tape in 2005.

Within NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Shadow co-producer and assistant director Chris Riley faced the task of digging up the space-race footage the documentary would eventually use. His task: to pace the building's long corridors and thumb through roughly 10,000 16mm film rolls many of which had been untouched since the early Apollo missions of the 1960s.

Shadow presents these findings, covering the space-race era and the nine missions to the moon between '68 and '72. And though the film contains some amazing images, it's most unique in that it allows the astronauts to tell the story in their own words.

As with the interview segments of Band of Brothers six years ago, and Ken Burns' documentary The War this past week, Shadow boasts a palpable immediacy in documenting these stories before its aging veterans and heroes pass. (Many of the astronauts involved are now in their late 70s.)

But now, with these interviews in the can, the final product hardly comes off as hurried. It's a masterwork in terms of historic preservation and elegant presentation.

David Sington, who has written and produced for science-related television programming like PBS' Nova, directs Shadow, which has already garnered three festival audience awards and the Grand Prize at the Boulder International Film Festival this year.

Most of his direction yields tight face shots of astronauts Buzz Aldrin (who stands out as the most lively and comical of the interviewees), Michael Collins, John Young, Jim Lovell and six others as they detail the minutiae of each phase in their respective missions. In poignant, sensory terms, they convey what it feels like to take a three-day ride to the moon and to travel at 26,000 miles an hour. Tension, concern, excitement, awe, doubt, hyper-perception and exultation are only a few of the emotions.

Space geeks will drool over the anecdotes, and even average moviegoers will find themselves fixed on every word when, for instance, one of the men describes feeling "death out there, about an inch away," as he stares out his ship's window and daydreams about it blowing out. Another test-pilot-turned-pioneer describes the moon's rugged inhospitality upon finally reaching it. "I didn't sense an invitation," he says. "I sensed a hostile place."

The only lingering disappointment here is that the moon's first man, Neil Armstrong, doesn't participate in this storytelling. Telling viewers, in passing mention, that Armstrong is quite reclusive, the documentary otherwise glosses over the permeating awkwardness of his absence.

Ultimately, though, the fascinating journey pays homage to the many thousands of scientists and engineers who helped fulfill President Kennedy's challenge to put man on the moon by the end of the '60s.

Though they were tumultuous times, NASA, in its greatest moments, gifted the world something to behold. Shadow presents a good reason to relive it.

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