Apollo 11 ★★★½

Anyone who's seen Super-8 stills of large crowds who gawk at the Saturn V launch, or the monochrome landscape of Tranquility Base, are bound to be more entranced now. Since the most dazzling aspect here is its never-before-released 70mm. Even beyond its basic documentation of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins heading to the moon, is a purified clarity that makes July '69 seem new. It's almost disarming to imagine buzzcut engineers at the Missing Control tower as contemporaries, yet somehow, it convincingly forges that illusion.

Exempting a flutter of photographs on the three astronauts: a childhood, graduation, wedding, etc, Apollo 11 assembles its entire narrative through archival footage. Recent docs such as Last Days in Vietnam and They Shall Not Grow Old used a similar approach that strips off the extraneous varnish. Although I found them a tad more rewarding in contrast to director/editor Todd Douglas Miller's clinically matter-of-fact approach, that doesn't hinder the rest of his peripheral craft.

Simply put, the launch is relived via a chronologically seamless sync of pristine visual and audio snippets. Which also maintains interest—despite knowing there's no ostensible danger, with Eric Milano's pressure-cooker sound design and Matt Morton's stirring score. The lunar descent with decreasing fuel/altitude numbers, as the camera gets posited on the Eagle, is a genuine thrill. The same goes for doing a roundelay to everyone's bated excitement in the Mission Control tower.

Still, one of the stumbling blocks is Miller's use of banal infographics, that show the Saturn V's thrusts in space. That kind of detail is inherently fascinating, yet doesn't offer any verbal explanation. Consider it a touch above simplistic stick-figures. In addition, I'm sure there's longer audio snippets of Armstrong and Aldrin discussing the moon's textures. Yet their reactions are so briefly elucidated—hardly more than a few minutes, when they spent hours in orbit.

Ultimately, the cross-cutted rapture of Saturn V's return, to Houston's elated welcoming is poignant. The historical event is being celebrated—a media-frenzy around the astronauts, to the Mission Control's cheering engineers, and regular folk who came to just be a part of its experience. None of these reports are revelatory, even to myself who could hardly be called a devotee, yet how it's unfurled is what's so enamoring. A beautiful précis of film restoration for the new generation.