'For All Mankind' takes fasinating look at Apollo flights to the moon

July 18, 1992|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

Most people can remember the names of the first two humans to set foot on the moon: Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin Jr., members of the Apollo 11 mission of July 1969. But how

many other men went to the moon, and over how many missions?

You may be surprised to learn that 24 American astronauts flew in nine Apollo flights, beginning with the first orbital trip in December 1968, through the final moonwalk mission in November 1972. And they all took pictures!

Fascinating film footage from all nine missions is nicely blended into "For All Mankind," a movie making its cable debut this weekend. The Academy Award-nominated film by Al Reinert premieres at 9:05 p.m. tomorrow on the TBS basic service, as a special edition of "National Geographic Explorer."

"Somehow, it still seems like science fiction," says host Robert Urich of the $42 billion Apollo program.

But most of the talking in this film is done by the astronauts themselves, after the obligatory archival tape of President Kennedy vowing, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade . . . because there is knowledge to be gained."

Presented as a single seamless mission, the film includes nicely edited sequences culled from an astonishing 6 million feet of film shot by the astronauts on those lunar jaunts. And although you may think you've seen a lot of space documentaries, this one captures the human experience far better than most.

"It feels just like it sounds," recalls one space flier, as footage of a blastoff conveys the thunderous, flaming power.

"What a rock and roll ride!" exclaims another astronaut, in a transmission recorded live during launch.

Yet as the Apollo module settles safely onto a lunar trajectory, the relative serenity and awe of looking down on Mother Earth prevails -- especially as an astronaut describes viewing the twinkling lights of campfires by nomadic tribes in Africa, welcoming the distant human connection.

"I'm afraid I'm going to forget this," says one, recalling his amazement at being weightless. Another provides the film's title, saying he felt acutely the responsibility in space that "I was having that experience for the rest of mankind."

Viewers may initially find disturbing the filmmaker's decision not to name any of the astronauts heard and seen. We do not know who is who, or which mission is which.

But as the movie progresses, the desire for such detail somewhat falls away, and we feel almost invited along as members of the crew -- or as among the myriad ground controllers, whose monitoring work is also nicely filmed.

The complexity and hazards of space flight hit home at times, especially during a crisis aboard one flight when liquids begin venting uncontrollably from the spacecraft. The film cuts tensely between ground control and the capsule until an astronaut throwing switches says, in apparent surprise, "Hey, it's off."

Chillingly, one of the fliers whose job was to stay with the orbital module when his two colleagues flew down to the moon acknowledges, "Part of your training is coming back alone."

"For All Mankind" has been seen at film festivals around the world, was an Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary and won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the United States Film Festival.

* HERE'S JERRY -- The third installment of "Martin & Lewis: Their Golden Age of Comedy" premieres on cable's Disney Channel at 9:30 p.m. tomorrow.

PTC "Jerry, Alone at the Top" documents the celebrated split between Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin after a 10-year partnership and follows the solo career of Mr. Lewis.

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