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FOR ALL MANKIND

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  The Apollo Astronauts
Director:  Al Reinert
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  Criterion
Features:  See Review
Length:  79 Minutes
Release Date:  February 15, 2000

Film ****

For All Mankind is an amazing triumph, and probably the best documentary film ever made about the United States space program.  Not because it’s the most educational, the most technical, or the most insightful into the personalities of those brave souls who led our fragile world into the Space Age.  But simply because it shows us first hand the experience of the voyages to the moon—what it looked like, and most importantly, how it felt to be a part of it.

This film, which was introduced in 1989 by producer/direct Al Reinert, is the result of an unimaginable effort that involved going through  some 6,000 hours of film footage, some of which had never even been seen before, and turning it into a cohesive, beautifully lyrical documentary of the voyage.  Footage from the early unmanned flights combine with that of each of the Apollo missions to create a seamless singular flight experience, with narration provided by the careful editing of the astronauts’ own words from interviews.

What the film may lack in National Geographic type educational value, it more than makes up for by being such a transcending experience.  From the moments the astronauts suit up, and wait for the go, we are among them.  We share in what they feel.  I found myself getting nervous during the waiting period, even though I had the benefit of knowing in hindsight that they all made it back safely.  The film follows them up the tower, across the ramp, getting strapped in, and of course, the liftoff, flight and final destination on the moon.

One of the most amazing aspects is the brief allusion to the Apollo 13 disaster…we actually see the astronauts building and installing their homemade carbon dioxide filter, and we recognize how accurate and detailed Ron Howard’s film was in the retelling.  But for the most part, this film is about what went right, rather than wrong.

When President Kennedy laid down the challenge to go to the moon, it was largely motivated by a desire to beat the Russians there and claim a piece of history for our own country.  But it becomes clear with the sharing of the voyage that the moon landing grew beyond the boundaries of a national event.  It truly became a defining moment not just for us, but for all mankind.  Watching this film actually means forgetting for 80 minutes about the tragedies, the wars, the headlines that plague our modern society, and reminds us for a few wonderful moments just how much we really are one race and one planet, and just how small we are in the grand scheme of things.

Video ***

If you’ve grown up with the television images of the moon landing, as I have, you are going to be delighted by the images on this disc.  Granted, the footage is old, shot on 16 mm film and not always in the best conditions for lighting or lack of interference, but overall, I found the image quality impressive.  Only a small handful of shots indicate a level of grain, which is inherent in the source material, not the transfer.  Frankly, I’ve never seen space photography look so beautiful, and so alive. 

Audio ***

The newly remixed 5.1 soundtrack is extraordinarily clean, and boasts a beautiful music score by Brian Eno.  The surrounds and .1 channel kick in sparingly, but enough to make the listening experience an ambient one.  Considering the video and audio patchwork involved in assembling this film, I’d definitely have to mark this one down as another triumph from our friends at Criterion.

Features ****

The disc contains many cool extras, including a commentary track with director Reinert and astronaut Eugene Cernan (the last man to walk on the moon), a gallery of moon paintings by astronaut Alan L. Bean, with his commentary, a collection of NASA sound bites and liftoff footage, and a special subtitle feature that identifies the astronauts shown on the screen while you watch.  Plus some cool animated menus with sound.

Summary:

For All Mankind is the ultimate, cinematic experience for bringing to life one of the most pivotal events in modern history.  This amazing film is one you’ll want to watch with the volume up and the lights off, and experience time and time again.