In the Shadow of the Moon

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
In the Shadow of the Moon Movie Poster Image
Lofty recap of the Apollo moon program.
  • PG
  • 2007
  • 99 minutes

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Positive Messages

The courage, bravery, and potential sacrifice of the Air Force fighter pilots-turned-lunar astronauts and their ground crews is a big topic. Singled out for particular awe is Neil Armstrong's ability to keep a cool head in extreme circumstances. Some astronauts speak of their "born again" religious reactions to setting foot on the moon. Others seem to embrace eco-enlightenment.


News footage of aircraft crashes, bombing, and combat in Vietnam.


Some "damn"-level cursing and a discussion of urination.


Vintage clips include commercial sponsors who glommed onto the Apollo program, like Miracle Whip.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this documentary mentions the riots and upheavals of the 1960s, as well as the dangers of the Apollo moon flights, with much time devoted to the launch-pad fire that killed three astronauts on the ground. There is also Buzz Aldrin's revelation that he urinated inside his space suit on worldwide TV before stepping on the moon.

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What's the story?

IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON is a retelling of the Apollo space program that aims rather high in compressing the whole epic moon-launch mission into feature length, covering everything from how the space program fit into the political climate of the time to the disasters (the 1967 launch-pad fire) and near-disasters (the Apollo 13 mission).

Is it any good?

This never-boring documentary uses no charts or diagrams or PBS-style narrator. Instead, it comes from the mouths of the astronauts and ground crew themselves, helped by a clever montage of astounding NASA space footage and pop-culture background (like Neil Armstrong's parents on a vintage TV game show).

Two sides of the space program emerge here. One is the awe of achievement for all humankind that seemed to transcend the turbulent times. The other shows the fine line between the "Right Stuff" idea ("an unshakable belief in your own infallibility") and the overconfidence that led to a 1967 fire on the launch pad that killed astronauts Grissom, White, and Chaffee in a sealed cockpit inferno.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the documentary's assertion that the American space program somehow transcended its Cold War goal to outdo the Soviets, becoming a more meaningful enterprise. What does the idea of a successful moon landing mean to you? What lessons do you get from the cool-headed "right stuff" attitude of the pilots? The astronauts allude at the end, briefly, to conspiracy theories that the Apollo moon landing was a hoax filmed on a movie set. Why do you think people would believe that?

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