“It’s not enough to go to the moon; you gotta do it on television.”
On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first men to walk on the moon, with the aid of countless technicians and engineers who helped get them there. Moonshot is a dramatic retelling of that event, with an emphasis more on the people involved than in the science.
The story begins in the early 1960s, as Armstrong (Daniel Lapaine, The 10th Kingdom), Aldrin (James Marsters, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and third Apollo 11 crewman Michael Collins (Andrew Lincoln, Love Actually) work their way through the space program as NASA’s Gemini missions get mankind closer and closer to the moon. We follow their stories as each gets selected for the moon landing, how it effects their families, and, finally, during the mission itself. During all this, actual footage from the era is cut into the film, both in terms of the NASA tech and in the worldwide media coverage. The idea, though, is to get to know the astronauts as individuals, and not just as famous footage that always gets replayed. Armstrong is the soft-spoken stoic guy, whose only interest is what’s good for the mission. Aldrin, conversely, is not a test pilot like the others, but a PhD physicist, who has something to prove at NASA. He’s depicted as a sort of rebellious wild card. Collins balances out the two as the easy-going family man.
A lot of the dramatics in the story are played in a low-key way. There’s a lot of anxiety over who gets to take the actual first step on the moon, and there’s a lot of worry from the astronauts’ families about the safety of the mission. It’s best that these moments are done with simplicity rather than overblown dramatics, though. Because there were allegedly not a lot of interpersonal conflicts on board, the scenes on board the spaceflight merely recreate what happened at the time, with the drama coming from the magnitude of where they were and what they hoped to accomplish.
The actors do a great job with what they’re given, but there are some odd choices made by the filmmakers, no doubt due to budget concerns, that kept taking me out of the story. At one point late in the film, suddenly a narrator chimes in during one scene to drop some exposition on us. This information could easily have been delivered in the dialogue. Also, during the big finale, the actors are suddenly lip synching the original recordings from the actual moon landing. Historical accuracy is good and all, but if this is a dramatic retelling, why not trust the actors to portray these key scenes themselves?
Despite these faults, it’s hard not to get caught up in what these men went through. Moonshot truly does get across the majesty and wonder of what it must have meant to walk on the moon for the first time. By making it a persona story, and by letting us get to know these men a little bit before they take that historic first step for man, the movie makes the moon landing truly emotional.
The picture quality is clean for the most part, and allegedly the classic stock footage has also been remastered, even if it still looks a little rough. The eclectic score is the highlight of the sound, which is nice and clear on the 5.1 track. Extras include slideshows of photos the Apollo, Gemini and Saturn missions, as well as astronaut biographies and a “jukebox” of selections from the score.
And…the eagle has landed. Moonshot isn’t going to be remembered as the definitive movie on the moon landing, but it is a decent retelling.