What does In the Shadow of the Moon have to do with the environment. A lot, actually. One of the most powerful moments in the film is when former astronaut Charles M. Duke, Jr. talks about seeing “the whole circle of the Earth” at once. “That jewel of Earth was just hung, up in the blackness of space,” he says, holding his hands out, cupped, as if to cradle the sphere. Definitely worth watching!
Film Takes Us Back 38 Years, to That First Walk
September 4, 2007
By John Schwartz
They are old men now. That much is obvious from the tight camera shots. Nonetheless, it is hard to fathom: has it been 38 years since the first of them set foot on lunar soil?
“In the Shadow of the Moon,” a documentary that premieres this week in New York and Los Angeles, tells the story of the Apollo program and the race to reach the moon, as President John F. Kennedy declared in 1962, “before this decade is out.” And so, on July 20, 1969, we did.
Note the “we.” It is from one of the most powerful, lump-in-the-throat moments of this exceptional film. Michael Collins, who orbited the moon during the Apollo 11 mission while Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. took their lunar module down to the surface, said that after the flight, on the around-the-world tour that NASA sent them on, “Wherever we went, people, instead of saying, ‘Well, you Americans did it!’ — everywhere, they said, ‘We did it! We, humankind, we, the human race, we, people, did it!’ ”
His voice breaks slightly in the telling, and he says: “I thought that was a wonderful thing. Ephemeral, but wonderful.”
The film, by the British director David Sington, has the backing of Ron Howard, the director of “Apollo 13.” It tells a story that has been told before, of course, in books and movies like the miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon.” The stories will be told again in the coming documentary, “The Wonder of it All,” which takes a similar, in-their-own-words approach, and in others that will surely arrive as the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing rolls around the summer after next.
Astronauts make tough reviewers — they tend to prefer accuracy to drama — but three Apollo astronauts interviewed for this article had praise for Mr. Sington’s work.
Alan L. Bean, an astronaut on Apollo 12, said reaching the moon “has implications for young people, so they see what they can do, what their generation can do.”
Mr. Bean continued, “This is a nice thing — this is what our generation can do. What is your generation going to do? It’s got to be better than this. Maybe it could be an inspiration.”
Harrison H. Schmitt, the geologist astronaut who made the last landing on the moon in 1972 with Eugene A. Cernan (and who later served a term in the United States Senate), said, “I’m not a good judge of entertainment filming and programming; I would do all of that differently, and go broke.”
But, Mr. Schmitt added, he would have liked to see a greater focus on the scientific benefits of the missions, including advances in geology and the rapid improvements in existing technologies like microelectronics that were pushed by the program.
In the film, the personalities of the less famous astronauts come through. Mr. Collins is funny and engaging, and Mr. Cernan is both precise and passionate. Charles M. Duke Jr. is eloquent in talking about how he felt being the capcom, or capsule communicator, on Apollo 11, as well as about his experiences on Apollo 16. Edgar Mitchell, who flew on Apollo 14, speaks with an almost mystical awe about his flight.
The astronauts also talk about seeing “the whole circle of the Earth” at once, as Mr. Duke puts it. “That jewel of Earth was just hung, up in the blackness of space,” he says, holding his hands out, cupped, as if to cradle the sphere.
Will the film appeal to those who did not experience the thrill of having watched the first steps on the moon live on television? Mr. Aldrin said he hoped the documentary would catch on. “I am looking for things that are going to stimulate the American people” to find the value in space exploration, he said, “the inspirational, the innovational and just the human quest to discover.”
Of the surviving moon walkers, only Mr. Armstrong declined to go on camera. That is not unusual, since he is known to avoid the spotlight. Mr. Sington exchanged a few e-mail messages with Mr. Armstrong, who explained, as Mr. Sington recalled, that “if you want to talk to me about my personal experience, walking on the moon, you’re missing the point.”
After all, Mr. Armstrong had said, “One small step for a man,” not “one small step for me,” Mr. Sington recalled. “He represents everybody.”
And so, Mr. Sington said, he came to accept Mr. Armstrong’s decision, and to have Mr. Armstrong’s as the only face that is not updated. “He’s the one astronaut who stays young,” he said. “Somehow, to me, that’s satisfying.”
Is there in that, perhaps, a tiny bit of rationalization?
Mr. Sington laughed. “If he’d said, ‘Yes, I’ll do an interview,’ I’d have been delighted,” he said.