A vintage film format brought ‘Apollo 11’ back to life

Mesmerizing visuals: About 50% of the film is images that have never been seen before.  

New documentary Apollo 11, which tells the story of man’s first steps on the Moon, contains footage so striking that it seems practically a crime that it remained hidden for nearly five decades.

The film — which premiered at Sundance in January but only hit U.S. theatres this weekend — injects new life into the most famous space mission of all time, which transfixed the world from July 16-24, 1969.

It blends images that are well known with long lost gems found in a National Archives warehouse and digitised for the first time.

“A good 50% of the film is images that have never been seen before but really, 100% of it has really never truly been seen before — the quality of it all,” director Todd Douglas Miller said.

The visuals are mesmerizing: seen in colour in a theatre, the tracks of the giant NASA crawler-transporter — used to carry the massive Saturn V rocket that launched the crew into space — fill the entire screen.

The captivating shots were a few of the many found on 177 65mm reels uncovered by Dan Rooney, supervisory archivist of the National Archives film section,

They were found poorly labelled, without any real indication of their contents except for a generic “Apollo 11”..

The Archives provided the film crew with 279 reels of 16, 35, 65 and 70 mm film.

The 65mm and 70mm were considered the luxury format of their time, used in cinema in the 1950s and 1960s.

Only a part of the trove was used for the 1972 film “Moonwalk One.”

NASA probably didn’t use the reels “because of the difficulty of working with these large formats, and they probably lacked the equipment and the expertise,” said Mr. Rooney.

Any more footage?

NASA used the large formats for filming ground operations at the Kennedy Space Center, and on the ship used to retrieve astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins at the end of their historic mission.

As the camera pans from the top to the bottom of the rocket, viewers get a sense of its sheer enormity, as the astronauts silently pull on their suits.

Also captured is the space mania among the general public of the time, as thousands took to Cocoa Beach to watch the launch, binoculars in hand.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 4:58:10 PM |

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