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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Apollo 11 is a documentary that uses historical footage to put viewers inside the NASA control room and on the rocket itself during the United States' historic mission to the moon. It offers an incredible opportunity to understand everything that went into that awe-inspiring event, from prelaunch to splashdown recovery. In particular, it makes it clear that the mission's success wasn't the noble effort of just three astronauts but rather of hundreds of thousands of NASA employees, contractors, volunteers, and more working as a vast team. Some of the film's footage has never been seen before, and it's breathtaking. But those amazing moments come toward the end of the movie, and getting there may be slow for many kids. There's no narrator; instead, the audio is from mission control, and it's often monotone and sometimes difficult to understand (imagine a pilot talking to the control tower about things like hydraulics, thermal balance, and telemetry). But other than a few glimpses of people smoking and one spectator chugging a beer, there's no iffy content. Ultimately, the film feels like something that runs on a loop in a science museum: You stop for a moment, take in a few minutes, then move on.
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What's the story?
In APOLLO 11, NASA's historic lunar landing mission is relived, moment by moment, through filmed images and recorded documentation of the three central astronauts (Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins), those who worked in mission control, and millions of spectators around the world. The documentary uses newly discovered 65 mm footage and more than 11,000 hours of audio recordings to move through the days leading up to and through Armstrong and Aldrin's one small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind.
Is it any good?
This film is like a historical archive crossed with an IMAX simulator, making viewers feel like they're part of the team that put the first man on the moon. But that process is simultaneously extraordinary and extraordinarily mundane. Director Todd Douglas Miller remasters both new and familiar footage to create a high-definition time machine in Apollo 11, transporting viewers back 50 years to suit up with the astronauts and sit with the spectators on the beach overlooking Kennedy Space Center. The "color" of the day is revelatory in itself: the 5-cent coffee, the hairstyles, the reactions, and some ridiculous promotional RCA paper caps that too many people chose to wear. While the film walks viewers through the entire event as it happened, it doesn't drum up the drama of the valve leak just before launch or even mention the mission's many perilous moments, an odd choice for a movie -- and even odder for a film aspiring to be the definitive record of the event.
Many men (and one woman!) were instrumental in getting astronauts to the moon, and what's wonderfully unique to this documentary is that it introduces so many of the behind-the-scenes figures who made it happen -- in fact, they get equal, if not more, on-camera time than the astronauts. But there are just so many NASA employees that it can be overwhelming -- and difficult to understand what each one brought to the project. The resulting perception, at least to kids, will be a lot of men in white shirts and black ties looking at monitors and talking in muffled radio transmissions. The film's phenomenal shots of Earth and the glorious time spent on the moon will be astonishing to older viewers, but the GoPro set may feel like they've seen this story already -- without the obstructed view from the space capsule window. As much as enthusiastic parents will want to take kids to see this film, it's likely to be a more meaningful experience for science buffs and nostalgic Gen Xers and Boomers.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the vast amount of teamwork that went into the Apollo 11 lunar landing. What surprised you? Who were some of the unsung heroes you discovered?
Nearly 1 million people showed up on the beach across from Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch when it happened, and some 500 million followed the story around the globe. Why do you think the Apollo 11 mission created such global unity? Break down the elements of why this mattered. Do you think there's an event the world could rally around again?
Explain how communication is essential in a space mission. What did you observe from the film?
How do Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins demonstrate courage and gratitude? Why are those important character strengths? Armstrong is humble about his accomplishment, one of the greatest in all of human history. What if he'd boasted and taken sole credit for the achievement?
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