For All Mankind (1989)

For All Mankind
dir. Al Reinert

For All Mankind is a fascinating 79 minute look at a bygone era of space travel: the moon voyages. Man has not returned to the moon since 1972, and it seems, until recently anyways, that space exploration had been put on the back burner in favour of more earthly conquests. Some argue that space travel and exploration are a frivolity in times like these when there are so many problems here on Earth that need addressing before we can start looking outward. But in reality, space exploration and research is largely based in solving problems here on Earth. Much of what we learn about the cosmos can be applied in interpreting our own planet, and if nothing else, it emphasizes how alone we are and the importance of preserving our planet. I've always enjoyed the late Carl Sagan's observations on outer space, particularly his piece about the "Pale Blue Dot." Not until we sent men to the moon who were able to look back at moon and illustrate how minuscule and precious our little blue orb was, suspended in the vacuum of space.

This passion and excitement brought on by the space age is one of the reasons why For All Mankind is so interesting and moving. It celebrates the technical achievements and human risks involved in launching a handful of humans into outer space without the bravado of a Hollywood film. This documentary is a collage of film footage taken by the astronauts from a number of Apollo missions. Together, all the footage put together illustrates the entire journey from Earth to moon and back. While it is a mixture of different missions with different astronauts in different years, it works, as long as you don't focus on the incongruities between names of people etc., and instead just focus on the magic of the journey itself.

The footage has been crisply restored by a doting crew at Criterion, and it looks stellar. Aside from some fantastic atmospheric music from ambient-master Brian Eno (including one of my favorite pieces of music ever, Ascent (An Ending)), the sound is mostly natural and provides a very welcome relief from something like Ron Howard's Apollo 13 which tunes you with soaring strings. Instead, we are allowed to hear the words between men, the sounds of the elevator taking them up to the capsule, the clinking of boots on metal, the pressing of buttons and everything else you would expect to hear. Most touching perhaps, is the woman at the base of the elevator who wishes the departing astronauts a "Y'all come back safe, y'hear?" as they walk past her. Go rent this!

Head over to the Criterion website to read a bit more and watch a 2-minute clip!

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