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In the Shadow of the Moon DVD Review

In the Shadow of the Moon movie poster In the Shadow of the Moon

Theatrical Release: September 7, 2007 / Running Time: 110 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: David Sington

Cast: Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong (archive footage), Alan Bean, Eugene Cernan, Michael Collins, Charlie Duke, John F. Kennedy (archival footage), Jim Lovell, Edgar D. Mitchell, Harrison Schmitt, Dave Scott, John Young

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By Christopher Disher

It is nearly every boy's dream to venture into space and travel to another world. In the 1960s, that impossible dream became a reality.
Nearly four decades have passed since the US first landed a man on the moon and everything accomplished since then seems like a disappointment. Those who were around to watch it live can relive the experience. Those who weren't now have a chance to watch in awe of the men who had the courage and fortitude to do something spectacular.

In the Shadow of the Moon is as much a history book as it is an uplifting and entertaining story of a time when our world reached out in hope, joined together in applause at the achievements of a few, and proudly called the success of landing a man on the moon their own. This new documentary's narrative follows the astronauts of the nine manned lunar Apollo missions, digging deep into their experiences, emotions, and perceptions. What they have to say is as interesting as it is wondrous.

One of the astronauts ponders during his training, perhaps anxious of the voyage that awaits him. One of the Apollo rockets launches in this iconic clip.

It begins with a quick introduction to the events leading up to the Apollo 11 mission that would yield the first moonwalk. The political scene is established, the space race is clear. The astronauts briefly tell their past and what motivated them to enter the space program and effortlessly the story moves into the real meat of the production: putting a man on the moon.
Throughout the 110 minutes, interesting anecdotes are offered, the facts are told, the feelings felt, and the spirituality of the experience is omnipresent. It is satisfying to hear the astronauts reflect on God or the idea of something greater than themselves. This aspect has consistently been left out in the past, but is something we all wonder about in our hearts.

Many documentaries fail because the interviewees are not quite interesting to watch. The ten astronauts interviewed in this film are candid and full of energy. The story is told in their words, not a narrator's, and all the wonder and excitement they personally experienced is easy to detect in their voices and mannerisms. One might think that the retelling of the moon experience would come across as rehearsed but the stories from the astronauts are sometimes completely new and always sound natural and sincere. Director David Sington says the intimacy developed as a result of the two days they spent interviewing each astronaut. After that much time together, a close bond is sure to form.

The editor's role is arguably much more important here than it is in narrative film. Working with the director, he sifts through mountains of material and creates a story that is both entertaining and informative. David Fairhead spent nine months with Sington in the editing room. Their tireless effort is apparent. The words of the astronauts blend nicely with the archival footage and Philip Sheppard's score punctuates the emotional charge of each segment, communicating a truth that can only be felt through music.

Buzz Aldrin gets personal with the camera and opens up about his unique experience. One of the astronauts goofs around on the lunar rover.

The astronauts address the lunar landing conspiracy theorists as the credits roll, laughably debunking their claims. Otherwise, the film stays away from politics, especially those of today. It never asks the question: "What's next?" As China enters the space arena, we can't help but wonder if our nation will again respond in pride and race to a new destination. Yet, NASA is no longer regarded as the flag bearer of our nation. Their 2008 budget is only 0.6% of the US federal budget and the amount of money spent on the program since its inception in 1958 is less than that spent on the war in Iraq. Putting politics aside, it is clear space travel is less of governmental importance than it is a growing private enterprise. For now, this documentary may be the only chance to experience the wonder of accomplishing the impossible.

In the Shadow of the Moon is life-affirming, a testament to the human will for discovery. Judging by its reception among critics who lived during the time, it is also a truthful portrayal of the history and the glory of the men who brought the world to its feet.

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1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen with 1.33:1 Pillarboxed Archival Video
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: February 12, 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $19.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

For a documentary with such a large selection of decades-old footage, video quality is expected to be erratic. However, the archival footage is presented in the best possible quality, 1.33:1 pillarboxed within the 16:9 frame. Much of it has been cleaned up and newly transferred from the original sources. Many iconic clips are present along with a great number of lesser-seen video spliced into the mix.

The interviews are shot in much the same raw style as The Fog of War with a bit less enthusiasm. They don't have the look of the History Channel with the warm, even lighting. Rather, they are lit with an emotion that both enhances the subjects' visages and draws attention straight to their characters. Shot in widescreen, they fill the 1.78:1 frame.

The audio is spectacular for a documentary. The interviews are crisp and prominent, the music is mixed well, and the few sound effects are well placed and present all around the sound environment. There are two English tracks, not including the commentary: Dolby Digital 5.1 and Stereo 2.0. The two subtitle tracks are English for the hard of hearing and Spanish.

A short feature juxtaposes the orchestra playing the music with the corresponding video in the documentary. Ron Howard talks about his admiration for astronauts. The "In the Shadow of the Moon" DVD's main menu gives the same hauntingly beautiful feeling as the documentary.

BONUS FEATURES and MENUS

The DVD's greatest selection of bonus features is a collection of eighteen interviews cut together with archival footage and music,
almost like they are deleted scenes rather than unused interviews. They are presented in nearly the same quality as the feature presentation and cover topics from the Cold War, Sputnik, Project Gemini, Apollo 9 & 10, and more. Total runtime is 57:28.

Next is an 11-minute mini-feature on Philip Sheppard composing the music for the film. It gives great insight into the importance of the right score. Following this is a 6-minute conversation with Ron Howard on how he was inspired by the project and decided to support it. He confirms he had no direct creative input but his observations are relevant giving his past experience with the film Apollo 13.

The audio commentary is very informative on how the filmmakers found archival footage, some history behind the clips, and their own observations of what they were working with.

Finally, a theatrical trailer for the film and previews of two other THINKfilm productions, War Dance and Nanking Remembered, conclude the disc.

The DVD menus are expertly transitioned with a seamless blend of similar shapes between the frames. The music conveys the sense of the film and the graphic design is simple, facilitating menu buttons that are easy to navigate.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin affix the United States flag to the lunar surface on Apollo 11. Lunar module separation is seen on one of the Apollo missions.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

At a time when our society is craving true heroes, it is helpful to look to the past when many rightfully existed. In the Shadow of the Moon aims to move and inform us. Above all, it strives to give us an idea of how the world responded to the epic ambition of landing man on the moon. It succeeds at doing all those things and further propels us to the mindset of the astronauts, who would undoubtedly dub their unique experience as the coolest thing anyone has ever done. I can confidently recommend this film to anyone old enough to understand words and to anyone who is young enough to wonder.

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Reviewed March 10, 2008.



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