8 Days: To the Moon and Back Review - An engaging trip to the moon and back
This documentary uses a mix of archival footage, media coverage, and previously classified cockpit audio, cleverly combined with live-action and CGI recreations, to take us through the Moon landing
Tomorrow, July 20, 2019, is the 50th anniversary of one of mankind's most iconic moments — the giant leap itself aka the Moon landing. There has been a flurry of tributes marking the occasion over the past couple of weeks, and quite a few films and documentaries about it in the recent past as well, including Damien Chazelle's Neil Armstrong biopic First Man, Todd Douglas Miller's Apollo 11 documentary, not to mention films like Hidden Figures which celebrated the lesser-known behind-the-scenes heroes who enabled this momentous mission. So what can BBC's new documentary, 8 Days: To the Moon and Back, really offer? Turns out, quite a bit.
Director: Anthony Philipson
Cast: Rufus Wright, Jack Tarlton, Patrick Kennedy
The eight days in the title refers to how long the entire mission lasted — 8 days, 3 hours, 18 minutes, 35 seconds, to be precise. Eight days for Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to go to the Moon and return home safely. Eight days when the world held its collective breath and at the end of which let out a big whoop. Most of us today were likely not around to see this. But we've all heard of it. And now, with this new documentary, we get to experience what it was like.
8 Days, directed by Anthony Philipson, uses a mix of archival footage of the mission, media coverage from that period, and previously classified audio from the cockpit, cleverly combined with live-action and CGI recreation, to take us back to those eight days. We see glimpses of the press conferences these three astronauts took part in before the launch, then the launch itself, with the accompanying hoopla from the press, and all the anxious faces watching. When we hear the audio from the cockpit, we see Rufus Wright, Jack Tarlton, and Patrick Kennedy, playing Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, respectively, and mouthing those lines in an interesting inversion of the dubbing we are used to. The use of audio and video from the media coverage of the event is nicely done and really puts us in that time. One commentator says, "We really don't have a language to describe this thing. How do you say high as the sky anymore?" and we get a sense for how huge this was.
Philipson also gives us a sense for what these three astronauts were like as men — Armstrong, the commander, despite having the least experience in space; Aldrin, the one with the most experience, also known for being brilliant and cocky; and Collins, who had "done everything [the other two] have done, but somehow it's not the same. He loves flying, but you get the feeling he could quit tomorrow. While the others talk flying; he prefers to discuss books, wine or roses." The story of how people answered the question of which of the three they would want to be stuck with on a remote island, is a good addition that says a lot with a little. There are also nice humanising touches, like the inclusion of a conversation right at the beginning about the temperature inside the cockpit — one finds it too chilly, another asks if he wants it warmer, while the third counters that it's just right — it could be a conversation from any of our offices. A little after, we get the three looking out at the sunrise from space and hearing the wonder in their voices as they look at the horizon is worth more than any CGI recreation (although that is nicely done too).
And it's this sense of wonder that truly defines us, isn't it? In Aldrin's words, the mission was a "symbol of the insatiable curiosity of all mankind to explore the unknown." On the 50th anniversary of this landmark moment in human history, here's hoping that we never lose that quintessential trait, and keep moving forward. To reuse Collins' words from a different context: "It is most important that we be going forward."
(8 Days: To the Moon and Back premieres tomorrow on Sony BBC Earth at 8 pm IST)