Film Review – Apollo 11 (2019)

by Nick Kush
Apollo 11

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, or Stanley Kubrick’s finest work as a director depending on your proclivity to indulge in conspiracies. Nevertheless, with the help of some incredible, never-before-seen footage of the famous mission from the National Archives, Apollo 11 manages to wow in its details, and add new depth and understanding to one of the most famous feats in human history.

The following review will be spoiler free.


Directed By: Todd Douglas Miller

Produced By: Todd Douglas Miller, Thomas Petersen, and Evan Krauss

Using footage from the National Archives that needs to be seen to be believed, Apollo 11 is an up close and personal look at how the first man walked on the moon. Throughout the film, we see the perspective of the astronauts in the Lunar lander itself, those in mission control, and casual onlookers that want to see history made.

Look at All This Footage We Found!

There was always a plan in place to celebrate the Apollo 11 mission for its 50th anniversary, but that plan became so much bigger when a massive trove of 65-mm footage and over 11,000 hours of audio files from the mission were discovered. Director Todd Douglas Miller and his team aided NASA and the National Archives in finding, cleaning, and transferring every piece of content they could find, turning their film into something more than an ode to history. What started as a more standard filmmaking job turned into one of the more important footage preservation efforts in recent memory.

What we now see in Apollo 11 is the best and highest quality footage from the mission in existence, and it’s truly a sight to behold.

apollo 11

image via IndieWire

Stunning Photography Meant for the Biggest Screen Possible

Todd Douglas Miller has made a note of calling Apollo 11 Dunkirk in space.” And while that may seem a bit silly as a soundbite out of context, there’s a lot of merit to this thought. Apollo 11 is incredibly technical, throwing you into its action with limited fluff while refusing to hold your hand, with all exposition solely adding to the procedural nature of the film. Apollo 11 doesn’t stop to say what just happened or set up what will happen next. Once you’re in it, you’re 100% in it. This structure allows for more room for the insanely impressive new footage that is literally breathtaking.

You will be shocked at the intimacy of the footage. You see the Lunar lander descend and land on the moon from a height of 50,000 feet, completely uninterrupted, and that’s only one of the incredible set pieces. IMAX is mostly reserved for the latest Avengers movie or whatever Christopher Nolan has coming out next, but there’s no question that Apollo 11 will be one of the best IMAX experiences of 2019. You’ll think that most of the footage was shot and put in the can yesterday; it’s not often that we get to see something with such a historical significance that has a sense of recency to it.

apollo 11

image via GeekWire

Directed to a Tee

The star of Apollo 11 is unquestionably the historical event at its center, but I think it’s about time that Todd Douglas Miller takes his victory lap. He knows that the incredible footage is what we all want to see, and he finds consistently inventive and interesting ways to include as much footage onto the frame as possible. Apollo 11 often splits into split screens, and even splits one side of that split screen into four smaller screens. It’s never jarring, frustrating, or jumbled, and it finds a way to create a holistic view of the Apollo 11 mission by showing how each party involved handled their tasks and reacted to important milestones. Quite frankly, I don’t see anything else centered around Apollo 11 ever topping this documentary. It’s the definitive piece of art for this mission as far as I’m concerned.

There is absolutely no fat on this movie, which is such a pleasure considering the amount of bloat on most films. It gets in, and it gets out with the perfect amount of resonance without lingering for too long. (But it will certainly linger with you after it’s over.)

apollo 11

image via Astro Bob

A Fun Companion Piece with First Man

The Apollo 11 production was very aware of the First Man production, and vice versa. (Todd Douglas Miller has also noted that he and Damien Chazelle talked frequently during development.) And while Apollo 11 isn’t exactly super fresh, it is still a different and distinct experience. First Man is a very personal, intimate character study of Neil Armstrong that expands years, whereas Apollo 11 is an overview of the mission and its nuts and bolts; it’s a yin-yang relationship of sorts. I encourage you to watch both for that reason.

It’s not often that a documentary comes around, knocks your socks off, and makes another film better in the process. Apollo 11 helps show that First Man got a lot right about this mission, and that we probably should have praised it much more as a collective when it came to theaters last October.

apollo 11

image via Slash Film

Final Thoughts

Apollo 11 is easily one the most finely crafted documentaries of recent time, using its amazing footage to the fullest for a perfectly paced experience that will be one of the best IMAX experiences of 2019. You know this story, and this isn’t exactly the first time it has been on the big screen, even within the last few months. But slick direction and a firm understanding of the gravity of the situation with some touching bits of humanity sprinkled into the mix will always do the job for a large majority of moviegoers, especially when the film circles around one the most monumental moments in human history.

Grade: A

apollo 11

image via Variety

Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on Apollo 11? Comment down below!

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Dave February 21, 2019 - 6:33 pm

I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the second showing at Sundance. Having been a space nut since childhood and remembering watching it happen as a child, I was blown away. I can’t wait for it to hit the theaters! Makes me glad I’m retired so I can see it multiple times.

Dale February 21, 2019 - 11:37 am

You say they were in “the shuttle”, but they were either in the Command Module or the Lunar Module. The term “shuttle” wasn’t used for anything relating to the Apollo program.

Nick Kush February 21, 2019 - 1:21 pm

Great catch! We’ve updated the article to clean up that issue. Thank you, Dale! 😁

Mats Nordqvist February 17, 2019 - 2:25 pm

The entire Apollo project is a thing I will allways remember as the man kind most extraordinary ashievement ever

Nick Kush February 17, 2019 - 2:58 pm

Same here! 😁

Anonymous February 2, 2019 - 1:25 am

Just saw this film tonight and it was amazing! so well done! Even though I knew the ending, because I lived it, I found myself holding my breath, it felt so up close and intimate. It was a truly moving experience. Jake Garn was in the audience tonight and stood up to speak about how authentic the film was and it was incredibly moving.

Nick Kush February 2, 2019 - 11:31 am

So great! Todd Douglass Miller spoke at my screening and shared the same sentiment. What a wonderfully crafted film!

Richard Southworth January 30, 2019 - 3:33 pm

I’ll definitely be seeing this film when I get the opportunity. I wonder if it would influence the perspective of someone who has already seen First Man (and isn’t already familiar with the subject matter).

Nick Kush January 30, 2019 - 4:25 pm

Maybe! I think if you knew nothing about the event that this doc is very informative in that it gives a great overview of all the moving pieces involved

Sam Simon January 30, 2019 - 4:19 am

It looks interesting! And thank you for the hilarious “or Stanley Kubrick’s finest work as a director depending on your proclivity to indulge in conspiracies”! :–D

Nick Kush January 30, 2019 - 10:58 am

Hahahaha I’m glad you liked it!!

Paul Bigham February 21, 2019 - 4:21 pm

Didn’t like the joke. Sorry I know I shouldn’t take it so seriously but we shouldn’t give conspiracy theorists any oxygen for their crap.

Nick Kush February 21, 2019 - 4:43 pm

Ohh well! Well I appreciate your POV! 😁

Michael Seidel January 29, 2019 - 10:15 pm

Wow, that documentary sounds enticing. I don’t have IMAX in my region so I’ll need to wait for a DVD or for when it’s streaming and watch it on my big screen. Thanks for the review.

Nick Kush January 29, 2019 - 11:32 pm

I’m sure it’ll be in regular theaters as well — they’d be silly not to do so. They’re gonna push this film hard for its eventual release!

Nick Kush January 29, 2019 - 7:59 pm

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