Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Right Stuff

Went to see In The Shadow of the Moon on Friday afternoon. It’s a Channel 4 documentary enjoying a small run in cinemas, telling the story of the Apollo moon landings in the words of the astronauts who took part. As well as their septuagenarian talking heads, it’s packed full of eye-popping footage of things exploding, things falling out of space, of things that are science-fiction and yet real. Worth the £6 entry just to see this stuff on the big screen.

I’m told the pay-off for this footage is that it’s not quite as critical of NASA as the book Moondust, which did much the same thing. I’ve not read Moondust but mean too soon because it counts as research for something I’m caught up in at the moment.

I have, though, seen From the Earth to the Moon (or “Moon porn” as it is in our house), so found I knew a lot of the stuff the astronauts discussed in more detail than they discussed it. Not all the moon men are alive today, and not all of those still alive wanted to take part. Neil Armstrong is a notable absence.

And yet this gave more room to those we wouldn’t normally hear from. Yes, there’s the other guys teasing Buzz Lightyear Aldrin because he’s so fascinating about the mathematics of docking when they all wanna woo girls. And that footage of him pausing as he comes down the ladder? That’s him, he says, being the first man to have a pee on the moon.

My favourite, though, was Mike Collins, who remained in lunar orbit while Neil and Buzz went skipping in the charcoal-like moondust. Funny, engaging and nicely self-effacing, he deservedly gets a lion's share of the screen time. It made me think of Jonathan Frakes in Futuruma: "Front row at last!"

It's full of great stuff, too. Gene Cernan, the last man on the moon, talks about his guilt for missing "his" war - his contemporaries having been caught up in Viet Nam while he was training to be a space man. Then there's what the astronauts make of the conspiracy theories that it was all faked, and that they actually just went as far as a Hollywood backlot.

That said, as well as not presenting anything too unsavoury (Apollos 7 and 13 are quickly glossed over), it also doesn't even dare to suggest why the moon missions came to an end, or what the chances are of there being anyone else up there one day. I can see an argument that these aren't the things you'd ask the astronauts themselves - and this is their story, not anyone else's. But I think people less clued-up on the subject may be left with nagging questions...

This is, then, a perfect entry level programme for anyone even remotely interested in the subject. Or in modern history. Or people. Or in anything really. Go see.


Rob Stradling said...

I will, if I can.

I have read "Moondust", and it's very good although a bit dry. That said, I don't want to know any more about the Apollo astronauts than they're willing to tell.

I just got hold of FtEttM on disc, having seen about half of it during a run last year. It's bloody brilliant.

Mike Collins, as well as being one of the best pub quiz answers in the world, is also the astronaut I'd most like to meet. Rather than not walking on the moon, it's better to remember him for being (at the time) the most isolated human being in history - several thousand miles from his nearest fellow lifeform while stuck on Columbia.

xuwmweb! I want some of that!

Anonymous said...

I got to see this in April at a film festival and really enjoyed it. I add to the recommendation.