For All Mankind (1989)
August 24, 2022 10:48 PM - Subscribe

An in-depth look at various NASA moon landing missions, starting with Apollo 8.

Directed by Al Reinert and with music scored by Brian Eno, "For All Mankind" provides a testament to NASA's Apollo program of the 1960s and '70s. Composed of actual NASA footage of the missions and astronaut interviews, the documentary offers the viewpoint of the individuals who braved the remarkable journey to the moon and back. While compiling the material for the film, Reinert went through more than six million feet of film of these historic moments.

Derek Smith: The visual splendor in Al Reinert’s For All Mankind seems designed to remedy the audience’s collective memory of the moon landing as a grainy, square image on television. Between 1968 and 1972, the Apollo Program sent nine missions to the moon, each equipped with film equipment to document discoveries and obstacles, and Reinert’s distillation of the literally thousands of hours of footage stashed in NASA’s archives give the impression of a single outer-space journey.

The found-footage voyage is given a familiar sci-fi trajectory. Brave men are fitted into bulky space suits while engineers stare at screens in the control room, and the poker faces that the astronauts employ to try to hide their anxiety during liftoff breaks into unguarded awe as the Earth is viewed from the rocket’s porthole. Save for an opening speech by John F. Kennedy, the film deliberately discards exposition and context. For one, there’s no attempt at differentiating one mission from another, and, even though they are either glimpsed in the footage or heard in the soundtrack, none of the great Apollo missioners (including Buzz Aldrin, Jim Lovell, Mike Collins, and Alan Bean) are identified by name.

Toussaint Egan: Directed by journalist-filmmaker Al Reinert (fun fact: he wrote the screenplays for Apollo 13 and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within), the film opens with footage and audio of President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 Address at Rice University declaring the United States’ intent to land a man on the Moon before 1970. Combining archival footage of the Apollo manned spaceflight missions from the 1968 Apollo 7 launch to 1972’s Apollo 17, as well as audio testimonies from 24 of the astronauts who participated in the program, Reinert’s For All Mankind is the antithesis of a hyperbolic space drama. It is instead a serene and inspiring testament to the marvel of space exploration and the power of human cooperation, and a sobering film that puts the existential fragility of our own planet into stark relief.

Accompanied by a beautiful score courtesy of the legendary Brian Eno, For All Mankind is not only a feature-length love letter to the pioneering achievement of the Apollo space program, it’s also the rare cinematic experience that can inspire an intense aesthetic reaction not unlike the overview effect. For those unfamiliar, the overview effect is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by several astronauts as they observe the relatively small scale of Earth when compared to the vastness of outer space. It’s a moving sentiment, one that resonates throughout every minute of the film’s run time.

James Kendrick: Reinert avoids manipulating his found footage as much as possible. When there is extradiegetic music by ambient-synth pioneer Brian Eno laid over the images, it is subtly atmospheric in underscoring the mesmerizing nature of leaving earth’s orbit and entering a completely alien world, an experience that can be claimed by only a handful of human beings in the entire history of humankind. Mostly, though, the soundtrack is composed of a seamless interweaving of sounds recorded during the actual missions (the astronauts breathing, ground control going through various checklists, the often humorously casual give-and-take between those on earth and those in space) and the reminiscences of the two-dozen astronauts who have traveled to the moon and back. With the exception of a few opening title cards, there is no text on the screen during the film, not even names to identify the various astronauts and ground personnel. On the one hand, this denies us direct knowledge of who we are seeing at any given point (unless you can identify famous astronauts on sight or by the sound of their voices), but it also functions to shift us away from an informative focus on who’s who and instead concentrate our attention on both the collective nature of the accomplishment and the experience of space travel itself.

And what an experience it is. While there were films about space travel before Reinert’s film and many, many more since (including both documentaries like HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon and fictionalized docudramas like Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, both of which Reinert helped write), none have quite managed to capture the pure essence of what the experience must have been like. For Reinert, who began his career as a magazine journalist before stumbling into the NASA archives and becoming captivated by all the footage of space travel that no one had ever seen, the film is first and foremost about a journey, and it encapsulates with great power the wonderment of something that too many of us now take for granted.

Whole movie
posted by Carillon (6 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Just amazing! I loved this one a lot. You get a sense for how small the capsules are, and their conditions onboard. You really see the majesty of the moon from so many different angles, and watching the astronauts have fun on their moonwalks is just amazing. I mean it's pretty overwhelming at times, and just awe-inspiring.

I can't help but compare in some ways to Apollo 11, which I think does a few things differently, that resonated more for me. For one, I love all the footage, but I'm never sure which Apollo mission is which when they're showing all the astronauts. I loved the simplicity of 11 in how it focused just on the one mission. As well, the narration is nice in parts, but sometimes I felt it weighing a bit on the emotion I was feeling. When the Saturn V rocket launched in Apollo 11 I found myself crying, in part because the film let that scene breathe and just overwhelm you with the visual majesty. Here there's a lot of that, but there's a lot less chance to have it just be, and the narration cuts back in too soon for my taste.

That said I loved the fact that we see how funny the astronauts could be. There's a bunch of jokes, and silly moments that get captured that make it feel so very human. Hearing what the men who were flung into space on jets of fire thought grounds you. One of the astronauts says despite being 238 thousand miles away landing on the moon, he never felt like an alien, but welcomes, and you feel that through listening to them talk.

Lastly, I'm sure this is a first mover disadvantage, but the Brian Eno soundtrack just reminded me of elementary school visits to the planetarium. I can't say for certain, but I wouldn't be surprised if those are copying this very movie, but the resonance was lost sometimes just because it felt heavy handed and familiar.

Overall just wonderful though, I'm picking nits because I can, and I have rewatched Apollo 11 more than a few times. This is just great and it really does overwhelm you with what you're watching in a very good way.
posted by Carillon at 10:57 PM on August 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

Years ago, I got to see this on the big screen at Brooklyn Academy of Music. For a grown-up who was a space nerd kid, there could be no better treat.
posted by rikschell at 4:37 AM on August 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

I've never seen the film, but the Eno soundtrack was on heavy rotation when I was a kid, and at the time there wasn't much like it. I'm not surprised the planetariums aped it. I took my kids to the planetarium for the first time last weekend, and the whole thing was dramatic movie trailer music and BAWUWUWUWUMM bass drops. When I was a kid it was just Holst. There's a planetarium zeitgeist, I guess.
posted by phooky at 4:52 AM on August 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

The real timeline. Not nearly as ambitious as the other For All Mankind, but at least the real NASA was smart enough not to send fucking Danny Stevens into space.

Danny Stevens, Jesus. Why not just blow the thing up on the launch pad and get it over with?
posted by Naberius at 7:07 AM on August 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

Terrence Rafferty described the movie as "educational ... in the nineteenth-century sense of 'sentimental education,'" which has always stuck with me.

There's a scene where, when launch day finally arrives, one of the astronauts gets into his spacesuit, climbs into the cockpit, straps himself into the seat, looks up through the window ... and there's the Moon, dead ahead! All those months of exhaustive preparation, and he hadn't been expecting that. He cracks some joke about how at least he can see that the rocket is pointing in the right direction. I don't know if I learned any facts about the Apollo program from watching this movie, but I learned something from that scene.

Fantastic movie. I wish there were more like it.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 6:01 PM on August 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

For All Mankind: 100% Danny-free version
posted by fairmettle at 2:56 AM on August 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

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