- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2008

“In the Shadow of the Moon,” the single most stirring and satisfying feature of 2007, revived the Anglo-American alliance in an unforeseen but exalted cinematic fashion. This British-made documentary about the Apollo space missions between 1968 and 1973, honored the opportunity to meet and commemorate the achievement of astronauts who participated in those historic exploits.

Now enhanced to some extent, the DVD edition restores a number of sequences trimmed for the theatrical release and appends a richly informative commentary track with director David Sington, film editor David Fairhead and co-producer Chris Riley, who was in charge of researching and securing the vintage footage illustrating NASA’s space programs from Mercury through Apollo.

Mr. Riley’s evocative finds, which range from an endearing glimpse of Neil Armstrong’s parents with Garry Moore on the game show “I’ve Got a Secret” through majestic launch and flight imagery, supplement the movie’s human-interest core material, interviews with 10 surviving Apollo astronauts, mostly in their 70s.

Mr. Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon in July 1969, declined to join the “Shadow” contingent. This loss tends to magnify the roles of his fellow astronauts on Apollo 11, Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin. One suspects they would have emerged as exceptionally responsive and entertaining camera subjects within any retrospective framework.

Alan Bean and Charlie Duke rival the Apollo 11 veterans as genial sources of recollection. Eugene Cernan and Edgar Mitchell arguably surpass the others when it comes to eloquent reflection. Mr. Cernan supplies the title itself when recalling the eeriness of suddenly realizing, with the approach of a lunar orbit, being in a unique vale of darkness.

He also volunteers the most persuasive argument for enlightened, space-age deism: “There’s too much purpose, too much logic in all this. There has to be a creator who stands above the religions we create to govern our lives.” This sentiment is echoed in Mr. Mitchell’s description of his ultimate “epiphany” as a space traveler and moon explorer, the sense that every molecule in his own body was linked to the “molecules in the stars.” For my money, this improves profoundly on Stanley Kubrick’s star infant at the conclusion of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Though it made the finals in the Academy Awards’ best-documentary category of 2007, “In the Shadow of the Moon” probably had little chance against the eventual winner, “Taxi to the Dark Side,” an anti-war polemic intended to discredit American intervention in Iraq.

“In the Shadow of the Moon” contradicts the bleak and accusatory drift of “serious” or denunciatory American filmmaking without resorting to anything that resembles defensive or unjustified national pride. It’s a sincere tribute that celebrates a kind of outward-bound yet unavoidably earthbound achievement that Hollywood has only rarely (and somewhat grudgingly) acknowledged, in movies such as “The Right Stuff” and “Apollo 13.”

It’s our good fortune that the Apollo astronauts came of age in a country that could facilitate extraordinary opportunities for certain far-sighted and courageous men. They’ve repaid the investment handsomely.

TITLE: “In the Shadow of the Moon”

RATING: PG (Fleeting profanity and humorous vulgarity; brief graphic images of a fatal accident site)

CREDITS: Directed by David Sington. Cinematography by Clive North. Editing by David Fairhead. Music by Philip Sheppard

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes, plus a commentary track with Mr. Sington and two associates, about 60 minutes of restored footage and other supplementary material

DVD EDITION: ThinkFilm/ Lionsgate

WEB SITES: thinkfilmcompany.com or InTheShadowOfThe Moon.com

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