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FOR ALL MANKIND
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  The Apollo Astronauts
Director:  Al Reinert
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1
Video:  Standard 1.33:1
Studio:  Criterion
Features:  See Review
Length:  79 Minutes
Release Date:  July 14, 2009

ONE GIANT LEAP FOR MANKIND.

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/director 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 economic collapse, 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 ***

Considering the age of the film footage and the circumstances under which it was shot, there are some amazing visual feats in this Blu-ray.  The film is presented in original 1.33:1 ratio, but the high definition really brings it to a more vivid life.  Sure, there's some grain here and there, but there's also plenty of detail, bringing the feel and scope of the moon to greater realism than ever before.  This is even better than seeing the live images first hand back in the late 60s and early 70s.  A very solid job.

Audio ***1/2

The DTS HD soundtrack is quite a treat...wait until those Apollo rockets lift off, and then hold on tight!  The dynamic range and surrounds give a terrific sense of authenticity to the machinery that made the missions possible.  The music score from Brian Eno is a nice touch.  Spoken words come through clearly for the most part...some moon transmissions are slightly garbled here and there, but that owes more to the technology of the time than to this solid track.

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 new high definition documentary "An Accidental Gift" that discusses the making of the movie, "On Camera", which shows some of the astronauts actually delivering their audio interview footage to Reinert, a gallery of moon paintings by astronaut Alan L. Bean accompanied by a new video program 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.  A booklet includes essays by Reinert and film critic Terrence Rafferty.

Summary:

For All Mankind is the ultimate, cinematic experience for bringing to life one of the most pivotal events in modern history.  This amazing Blu-ray really makes the race to the moon a vivid experience, and is one you’ll want to watch with the volume up and the lights off, and experience time and time again.

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