Last year, the filmmakers behind Apollo 11 were discussing making a documentary to mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, when an archivist informed them that extensive, unseen 70mm footage of the mission existed at the National Archives. The footage became the basis for the documentary Apollo 11 and now we’re getting our first look at it with a new trailer.
In December, the Apollo 11 filmmakers told Vanity Fair that Dan Rooney, an archivist at the National Archives and Records Administration, knew the footage was boxed up in a vault somewhere but he had no idea what kind of treasure he was sitting on. As NASA was preparing the Apollo 11 launch, it made a deal with MGM Studios to film the mission preparations and their aftermath. MGM set up a crew to film it all using the same epic Todd-AO 70mm treatment it gave to blockbusters like The Sound of Music. Six weeks before launch, MGM lost interest but NASA wanted to go through with it anyway and managed to get the crew filming. Some of the footage was used in a short documentary, but most of it was locked away. Now it’s coming to the big screen along with audio culled from 11,000 hours worth of uncatalogued recordings.
Buzz Aldrin himself is one of a dozen credited cinematographers on the new documentary, and based on early reviews coming from Sundance last week, it appears that the level of intimacy the crew captured is the film’s biggest strength. The Hollywood Reporter wrote that “much of the footage in Apollo 11 is, by virtue of both access and proper preservation, utterly breathtaking,” and found that the filmmakers were freed up to make something experiential because the story of the mission is already so well known. Indiewire gushed that “the clarity takes your breath away, and it does so in the blink of an eye; your body will react to it before your brain has time to process why, after a lifetime of casual interest, you’re suddenly overcome by the sheer enormity of what it meant to leave the Earth and land somewhere else.”
Just looking at the trailer, we can say it’s wild to see footage from this era that doesn’t look like it was shot through a yellowy vintage Instagram filter. It looks like it could’ve been shot yesterday.
There’s no theatrical release date yet, but the big 50th anniversary of the moon landing is coming up in July so we’d guess it will be out around that time. Until then, check out the trailer above and a spiffy new poster below.