On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy challenged the nation to put a man on the moon. While he never lived to see that dream realized, a small handful of Americans lived it in a way no others would, by actually making that perilous trip through the void of space to become the first humans to set foot on a non-terrestrial body. And while much has been produced about the Apollo Moon Missions and the men who flew them, In The Shadow Of The Moon is perhaps the most comprehensive and intimate telling of those events, in the words of the astronauts themselves.
Although often presented as possessing a sort of cowboy courage, the Apollo astronauts in both archive film footage and the contemporary interviews done specifically for the film come off as highly skilled professionals who knew the dangers of what they were attempting and who made sure that their training was thorough enough to not let them take reckless chances. In fact, some of them were downright skeptical and a bit apprehensive about the moon program at it’s start. “It looked like a quick way to have a short career,” recalled Jim Lovell, referencing the problems NASA was having with keeping their Atlas booster rockets from explosively malfunctioning.
The film never treats the Apollo astronauts as figures chiseled into the marble of history. Instead, it lets them be themselves, telling their stories often with a touch of humility and, more often than not, more than a touch of humor. The biggest laugh in the film comes from Buzz Aldrin’s slightly red-faced confession of what he was the first man on the moon to do. Conversely, Gene Cernan talks about the guilt he felt over working on the Apollo program while others were fighting and dieing in the jungles of Vietnam. It was something he had only discussed with a few close friends and family members before now and though he has long since come to terms with these feelings, we can still see the pain and discomfort it causes him to talk about now.
In addition to the frank and revealing interviews with the Apollo astronauts, In The Shadow Of The Moon is a must see for space program enthusiasts for the spectacular archival film footage, much of which has never been released publicly before. From being close-up to the raw power of the Apollo rockets at liftoff to the fiery view out the capsule window at the beginning of atmospheric re-entry, the film puts us not only into the astronauts’ eyes’ view of the mission, but any where we need to be to see the scope of the massive human achievement that was the Apollo lunar program.