Uniquely, almost impressively dull, here’s another documentary about the space race, distinguished by an utter lack of political or cultural insight. Granted, the history of the Apollo moon missions—recounted in the chipper, Midwestern tones of their surviving participants (save an AWOL Neil Armstrong)—deserves retelling, if only to preserve a moment of American prestige. All of the footage is archival, emphasizing both the real-life accomplishment and an alarming number of ashtrays. And if you happen to be living under a rock with no access to Apollo 13 (Ron Howard is the doc’s producer), you might still get a thrill from seeing those men skip across the gray dust. Again.
But if the goal is to inspire a new generation of tinkerers, this synth-scored pageantry is hardly the right stuff. The science, while much dwelled upon, is incidental to the state of mind: that of an America increasingly wrapped up in its own self-image, terrorized by Sputnik, escalating in the Far East and still haunted by the visionary words of its slain President. Such are the conditions that make for greatness. To its strange discredit, In the Shadow of the Moon wants little to do with that roiling context; it might as well be pure science fiction.