For All Mankind, 1989.
Directed by Al Reinert.
Starring Jim Lovell, Russell Schweickart, Eugene Cernan, Michael Collins, Charles Conrad, Richard Gordon, Alan Bean, Jack Swigert, Stuart Roosa, James Irwin, Ken Mattingly, Charles Duke, and Harrison Schmitt.
Al Reinert’s classic documentary about the Apollo moon missions, For All Mankind, arrives in 4K courtesy of the Criterion Collection, which also included the Blu-ray they released in 2009, complete with all the bonus features that were available then. Nothing new was created for this one, aside from the ability to watch the 4K presentation in 1.33:1 or 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
You’ve probably seen your share of moon landing footage, but if you have any interest in NASA’s Apollo program, you’ll want to feast your eyes on Al Reinert’s excellent documentary For All Mankind. He had access to the NASA archives over a period of several years and assembled the best footage into a film that uses the different Apollo missions to take us from the Earth to the moon and back.
Reinert also spent time interviewing many of the astronauts who participated in the Apollo program, using their voices to provide narration over the footage. It’s an interesting technique that eschews the talking heads that you see in many documentaries, keeping the visual focus solely on the incredible footage that Reinert unearthed.
Even those with a passing interest in the space program will recognize some of the footage, such as Neil Armstrong’s step off the ladder or the rocket take-off that was heavily used by MTV during its early years. However, there’s a lot here that’s a delight to take in, such as the dots of light coming from the fires of nomadic African tribes in the desert, as seen from orbit. Or the sublime beauty of the sunrise along the curve of the Earth, as well as the Earth-rise from orbit around the moon.
Reinert doesn’t identify the individual missions as we see them, preferring instead to stitch all of the footage into one continuous trip to the moon and back, but there’s a sub-title option that displays astronaut and mission names on the screen, if you want to keep track of where you are in the mission progression. Sub-titles also help identify who’s speaking at any given time, since we don’t see them (and we couldn’t see them: Reinert’s interviews were audio-only).
For the soundtrack, Reinert turned to famed musician Brian Eno, who worked with his brother Roger and Daniel Lanois to craft a score that does a great job of complementing the incredible images. The music is unobtrusive, remaining lower in the mix so it doesn’t overpower the visuals. I’d imagine the effect is even better on the big screen, but unfortunately I had to settle for my 4K TV.
Speaking of 4K, this release marks the debut of the film in that format. Since much of the footage was originally shot in 16mm, a 4K presentation isn’t going to offer that much improvement over the Blu-ray that’s included here too (it’s the same disc Criterion shipped in 2009), but if you have a high-end setup with a really big screen, I imagine you’ll notice the difference. Criterion also included versions in 1.33:1 and 1.85:1 aspect ratios – the latter slices the top and bottom off the image, lessening the majesty of some of the shots. Your mileage may vary, of course.
In terms of bonus features, Criterion has ported over everything from their original release, which includes:
- Commentary track with Reinert and astronaut Eugene Cernan: Recorded for the film’s DVD release in 1999, this track features the pair together. Thankfully, it has a limited amount of dead air and meandering conversation – each of them has a role to fulfill, and they do so admirably. Reinert offers up a lot of information about how the film came to be made, his approach to editing it, and so forth, while Cernan gives us the astronaut’s view of the proceedings (he notes that many of the Apollo astronauts really like the movie).
- An Accidental Gift: The Making of For All Mankind (32 minutes): Reinert gets into some of how the film was made in the commentary track, but here he’s able to dive deep and discuss the project from his earliest thoughts on the subject to its final release. Several NASA film archivists also show up in this featurette, which includes a visit to the space agency’s vaults, where the Apollo footage is kept in frigid temperatures to preserve it. The term “an accidental gift” comes from Reinert’s observation that NASA invested in a lot of film capture during the Apollo missions so they could copiously document everything and have a visual record in case something went wrong, but in the process they also managed to get a lot of breathtaking footage.
- On Camera (20 minutes): This is a collection of Reinert’s favorite Apollo astronaut interviews from various documentaries and other sources.
- Paintings From the Moon (45 minutes): Astronaut Al Bean is one of the more interesting guys to walk on the moon. After his career at NASA, he started turning his experiences into paintings, and this featurette includes an introduction from him as well as voice-overs on the images.
- NASA Audio Highlights (7 minutes): This is a collection of the agency’s more famous bits of recorded audio, including Armstrong’s first words from the moon and “Houston, we have a problem.”
- 3, 2, 1 … Blast Off! (2.5 minutes): This is an assortment of video from five different rocket launches.
Criterion also included its usual booklet, which in this case includes essays by Reinert and writer Terrance Rafferty.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★