For All Mankind
Directed by Al Reinert
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 80 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
MSRP: $ 29.95
Release Date: July 14, 2009
Review Date: June 28, 2009
The heroic, historic Apollo moon missions that put human beings on the moon are boiled down, expertly capsulated, and presented as one in Al Reinert’s For All Mankind. It’s a stirring and ultimately poignant saga of passion, perseverance, and power and remains one of the most engrossing documentaries of human endeavor and achievement ever committed to film. Criterion released the film on DVD years ago (it’s #54 in their series), but this is a brand new transfer with some appealing new bonus material giving the package added value. It is not to be missed.
Human history was changed forever when Neil Armstrong made those first steps on the lunar surface in July 1969, but there were many Apollo missions before Apollo 11 when he took that famous moonwalk, and this documentary gives equal time to the other five missions which featured moon landings and exploration as well as other Apollo missions that involved testing various phases of the mission before the actual moon landing occurred. Director Al Reinert has elected to combine footage from all of the various Apollo flights and fashion a seamless moon trip from pre-flight to splashdown but using NASA footage from all of the missions in compiling his story.
Much of the footage in this compelling documentary has never before been seen, previous network television and film documentary producers seeming to dwell on the same few pieces of historic footage and nothing else. Thus, from the very start there is a freshness and vivacity to the imagery that’s immediately captivating. To keep concentration fully focused on the images, there are no subtitles identifying the various astronauts or missions (though the Criterion disc does have a switch that the viewer can turn on to identify the persons on-screen if he wishes). And thus, the mission with its breathtakingly powerful launch, the fun in space, the snafus, the moon escapades (including some mishaps there as well which could have been life threatening), and the return trip are all captured in a variety of color and black and white footage that is simply amazing.
Reinert also doesn’t use the talking heads approach to documentary filmmaking. The astronaut’s voices are heard on the soundtrack describing their movements, their memories, their joys and fears during the flight, but there is never anything inserted to draw attention away from the film footage which, in the director’s opinion, deserves to be seen without interruption. His decisions were certainly right on the money, too, because the film is as moving and impressive as it’s possible for such a short, concise documentary film to be. The achievement of reaching in moon in less than a decade after President Kennedy threw down the gauntlet in 1961 still seems unbelievable, and when one remembers all of the civil unrest that our country went through in the years leading up to Armstrong’s unforgettable “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” declaration, the accomplishment today seems even more fantastic and definitely worthy of celebration.
The film’s 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented faithfully on this DVD and is slightly windowboxed in Criterion’s usual fashion. True, the image quality depends on the quality of the original photography, but because NASA has kept the films from the missions in conditions that would prevent any deterioration to the original elements, the resultant DVD is about as pristine as the footage can look. Sharpness in the best of the clips will take your breath away, and even in low light, the grainier image isn’t displeasing to watch. The film has been divided into 17 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track will definitely surprise you with its robust qualities. Bass during the launch and at other times is incredibly deep and expansive, and the music score (mostly by Brian Eno) is given a wonderfully full surround encode.
The audio commentary finds the director and astronaut Gene Cernan each talking about aspects of the film that interested them the most in one of the most involving and interesting audio commentaries I’ve listened to in many months.
“An Accidental Gift: The Making of For All Mankind” is an excellent 32-minute documentary detailing how Reinert came to make the film and features interviews with NASA film archive head Don Pickard with whom he worked closely to pick through millions of feet of film to choose the choicest clips for inclusion in his movie. It’s in anamorphic widescreen.
“On Camera” is a compilation of talking head footage not used in the movie featuring fifteen of the astronauts featured in the film and gathered from recent and vintage interviews with the men. It’s in anamorphic widescreen and runs 20 ½ minutes.
“Paintings from the Moon” features astronaut Alan Bean who painted a series of artworks about the moon missions featuring him and fellow Apollo astronauts. We see twenty-five of his paintings, each with voiceover descriptions by the artist in a 38-minute compilation featurette. There is also a 7 ½-minute introduction by Bean describing how he came to paint these canvases.
There is 6 ¾ minutes of NASA audio highlights featuring twenty-one memorable sound clips from the Mercury and Apollo space eras.
“3, 2, 1 Blast Off…!” shows five rocket launchers at liftoff from Mercury and Saturn rockets in a 2 ½-minute montage in 4:3.
The enclosed 26-page booklet features wonderfully evocative clips from the movie, a cast and crew list, a celebratory essay on the movie by film critic Terrance Rafferty, and a coda by producer-director Al Reinert about the movie’s inspirational meaning for him.
A rousing, emotionally stirring documentary about one of our country’s greatest scientific and historical achievements, For All Mankind is a film that should be seen by all. Highly recommended!