Forty years—it will be, next week—hasn’t diminished the stirring accomplishment of the first manned lunar landing. Inspired by a much-mourned President (“We choose to go to the moon,” Kennedy pledged) and strong enough to withstand costly setbacks and even the accidental loss of life, the Apollo program succeeded as both a vision of human ambition and high drama.
For All Mankind, Al Reinert’s 1989 documentary, also reminds us that, apart from being brave explorers, the Apollo astronauts were, essentially, cinematographers. They went to observe and collect footage of sights never witnessed, and the film is composed entirely of that material. (So important was the space negative that it was divided in half and two separate jets flew it back from the splash landing, in case one of them crashed.) How refreshing, then, to see a doc totally devoid of talking heads or digital recreations. Reinert chooses to combine all six moon landings into one narrative journey, a poetic choice that eliminates repetition. Accompanying the stunning images is synth genius Brian Eno’s most cosmic original score, since recycled in films like Trainspotting and Traffic.Criterion’s updated digital transfer (this is a rerelease from a 2000 edition) is a must-see for tech geeks and fans of smoky, Nixon-era control centers. Extras include a compilation of famous audio transmissions (“The Eagle has landed”) and archival interviews with many of the astronauts, some of whom speak of a lost sense of purpose postmission.—Joshua Rothkopf