For All Mankind (DVD)
In recent months, many of NASA's projects have resulted in high-profile failures. Even something as seemingly routine as a shuttle launch has turned into a ritual humiliation, with breakdowns and delays tainting the exploration of the heavens with a taste of the mundane. It wasn't always like this. At one point, the U.S. space program was one of the government's top priorities, an expensive race against the Soviets that was nonetheless rooted in awestruck excitement. Consequently, the moon landing made its mark on history not as a cry of American scientific dominance but, as in the famous words of Neil Armstrong, a giant leap "for all mankind." The most remarkable thing about producer-director Al Reinert's 1989 documentary of the same name is not just the footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing from take-off to touchdown, but how, even in cynical times, it inspires pride in what humanity as a whole has accomplished. Criterion's special edition of For All Mankind is packed with enhancements to a film that already perfectly captures the excitement of the mission. Set to Brian Eno's beautiful, evocative soundtrack, these images (assembled by Reinert from NASA's archival footage) are nothing short of remarkable, transcending their 16mm film stock to achieve something far more grandiose. The disc also includes famous NASA soundbites, allowing viewers to listen in on what was heard by millions on the radio, as well as a highlight reel of lift-off footage. Yet it's clear from the commentary track by Reinert and Gene Cernanthe last astronaut to walk on the moonjust how far we've moved on from this era. For many, space travel is almost old-hat and rife with disappointment, plain compared to the high-tech world of special effects. In this visually overloaded world, Reinert's film may seem to some like a reel of home movies. But For All Mankind captures the sense of wonder absent from false science-fiction product like Armageddon, which pales in comparison to this.