By Matt Singer
[Photo: David Sington’s “In the Shadow of the Moon,” ThinkFilm, 2007]
Traveling inside what amounts to a giant tin can strapped to front of an incredibly powerful rocket hurtling through space 13 times faster than a speeding bullet only to get to a desolate place with no air, sustenance or shelter can really readjust the way you look at life on Earth. The 24 men who made this remarkable journey, and saw our home from a distance, floating serenely and precariously amidst the rest of the cosmos, took away from it an appreciation of the marvel and beauty of our planet, even at its most tedious. “I’m glad there’s weather! I’m glad there’s traffic!” one chuckles. The astronauts interviewed in “In the Shadow of the Moon” speak of the perspective they gained by visiting another planet. Anyone who sees this absorbing documentary will likely have a similar experience.
Of those 24 men, 12 actually got to step foot on the moon. Nearly all those who are still alive (save the reclusive Neil Armstrong) appear in this documentary, directed by David Sington, to talk about the trip. Their interviews are honest, warm and insightful, and the accompanying footage, most of it never before seen (at least by me), is uniformly beautiful. And some of those shots of that very first lunar landing, the “One small step…” one, that show it all from new and different angles, put a serious hurting on those conspiracy theories that the whole thing was faked from some warehouse in Texas.
I didn’t think astronauts were dopes, but I was surprised to see just how thoughtful these men are. They talk about the difference between fear (which they don’t have) and worry (which they do). They describe the surreal feeling of going to sleep one day a nobody and waking the next an American hero, the idol of millions. They explain what it feels like to fly inside a fireball. And they remind us just how courageous they were: back in its early days, this stuff was so incredibly dangerous men died simply conducting tests on the equipment.
Some of the shots of Earth from space like one taken from inside one of the rocket staging pieces as it separates from the capsule and slowly falls back through our atmosphere are so gorgeous they could bring you to tears. And it’s nice to see that Michael Collins isn’t the least bit bitter about the fact that he’s always going to be known as the guy who went on the first mission to the moon but got stuck back in the command module while those other two lucky bastards, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, got to have a big party on the surface.
“In the Shadow of the Moon” is significantly more than a made-for-television documentary. It’s awe-inspiring and uplifting, a reminder that when mankind puts aside its squabbling and works towards a goal, it can achieve great things. On July 20th, 1969, more than half a billion people watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon and were united, not by death or fear or hatred, but by joy and pride and the hope for a better tomorrow.
“In the Shadow of the Moon” opens in limited release on September 7th (official site).