- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2007

NASA’s brave astronauts of 1969 knew that Americans not only hungered for something positive — they needed it. This elite group of pilots knew that a few steps on the moon might, even if for a few fleeting moments, cast a warm glow over a dark time of assassinations, overseas war and at-home unrest.

These men were right; those first lunar footprints left behind by Apollo 11’s Neil A. Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in July 1969 sent ripples of pride through the nation and the world at large. “We did it,” fans around the globe cheered.

Director David Sington’s new documentary, “In the Shadow of the Moon,” is a beautiful homage to this and the other groundbreaking achievements of NASA’s Apollo Program.

But beyond Apollo’s specific accomplishments, viewers are likely to be struck by a sense that we may never again witness an event so beautifully unifying, so humbling and yet so majestic. Think about it: Would the whole world be watching if we walked on Mars? Would we flood the streets to celebrate the men who risked their lives to get there? Or would we just catch the recap on our IPhones and then continue perusing our e-mail?

Perhaps today we need this reminder of human triumph, goodness and togetherness just as much as we needed that valiant first moonwalk in 1969.

Mr. Sington’s film succeeds because of the nobility of its story and also because of the components he has used in constructing the work. He had unparalleled access to remastered original footage from NASA, which includes clips from both the inside and outside of the spacecraft involved and from Mission Control. Much of the material the filmmaker chose has never been used before — and not because it lacks drama.

Sewn throughout these clips are interviews with 10 surprisingly charismatic surviving crew members of various Apollo missions. Although Mr. Armstrong declined the offer to appear, his cohorts more than make up for his absence, recalling details of their missions as if they happened yesterday. Through their colorful stories, astronauts such as Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins and Apollo 16 lunar module pilot Charlie Duke come off as both valiant heroes and everyday guys who just happened to do something extraordinary.

The film’s only flaw has to do with Mr. Sington’s narrative, which isn’t laid out chronologically but rather shoved into an artificial story arc that intertwines the many Apollo missions into one umbrella voyage to the moon. Viewers may find it a bit difficult to keep track of who did what when.

In the end, however, this is unimportant. As the film points out, what really matters is this: We did it.

****

TITLE: “In the Shadow of the Moon”

RATING: PG (Mild language, brief violent images and incidental smoking)

CREDITS: Directed by David Sington

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

WEB SITE: www.intheshadowofthemoon.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS.

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