There’s a veritable space race of programming to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, but the breathtaking docudrama 8 Days: To the Moon and Back (BBC Two) will surely go down as the best.
Director Anthony Philipson’s feature-length film cleverly combined newly declassified cockpit audio recordings with hi-tech digital effects and dramatic reconstructions to recreate the Apollo 11 mission as it unfolded, from blast-off to splashdown. The result was so intimate and immersive that it felt like being not just aboard that Saturn V rocket, but actually inside those pressure helmets.
We’ve all seen the historic images and heard the famous quotes but this provided a thrillingly fresh perspective. Transmissions between the three astronauts and Mission Control in Houston were no longer muffled and scratchy but clearly audible and downright fascinating.
There was wry banter between Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, and warm camaraderie with their colleagues in the control room.
Some of the standout moments, though, were the quiet ones: when the astronauts lost contact with the ground or gazed awestruck at the view. (“Goddamn, that’s pretty,” said Armstrong, watching the sunrise over the horizon.) Close-ups on their anxious faces humanised the momentous events, with Rufus Wright’s portrayal of Armstrong especially captivating.
Back on Earth, clips of broadcasting titan Walter Cronkite (anchoring “CBS News’ colour coverage, sponsored by Kellogg’s”) brought home how the world was watching and waiting with a sense of wonder. When the Eagle landed at Tranquillity Base, there were broad smiles in space and proud tears back home.
A masterclass of seamless editing, this was engrossing, emotive and visually stunning. Surprisingly tense, too, considering we knew the outcome.
When a vital switch broke, a system alarm sounded or they overshot their lunar landing site, I held my breath. I was born 12 months later, so this was the closest I’ll get to the feelings experienced by the global audience of 600 m who witnessed the event live on TV. Indeed, it brought out the little boy in me. Suddenly I wanted to be a spaceman again.
Some of the patriotic flag-waving might have stuck in the craw slightly but you could forgive the Americans their moment. This film really was a glorious piece of work.