April 30, 1990 12:00 PM


The ultimate irony is that after years of Star Wars movie special effects, the footage in this stunning film—impossibly vivid shots of the Earth as seen from the moon, the barren, ultimate loneliness of the moonscape itself—doesn’t seem realistic. But it is wholly real NASA film and tape from manned moon missions that took place from 1968 to 1972.

The footage, from blast-off to reentry, is all vintage, with recent voice-over commentary from the Apollo 9-17 astronauts themselves mixed with radio communications from the missions.

It’s disorienting that the movie combines nine flights into one composite trip and never identifies either the images on the screen or the voices on the sound track. Director Al Reinert, a Texas Monthly contributing editor who originally interviewed the Apollo astronauts for that magazine, has said he and the astronauts explicitly avoided identifications to present the flights as more of a team effort.

But the emotions and ideas being expressed are idiosyncratic. One man says of being on the moon, “You’re lucky to be there. You’re just the representative of mankind at that point in history.” Another talks about the “spiritual presence” he felt. A third says, “It might have been just a small step for Neil Armstrong, but it’s a big jump for a little guy like me.” It would hardly demean the experience to know who is saying what, who is reacting to an in-flight emergency with such poise, who is so playfully (and perhaps recklessly) tumbling around the surface of the moon.

This film is nonetheless a testament to human curiosity, ingenuity and courage. And Reinert and producer Betsy Broyles Breier successfully reinforce the argument that however safely, efficiently and cheaply machines could perform that exploration, they can never do one thing men and women can: enjoy it. (Not rated)

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