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For All Mankind (Blu-ray Review)

8 Jul, 2009 By: John Latchem

For All Mankind

Street 7/14/09
Box Office $0.77 million
$29.95 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray
Not rated.

According to Al Reinart, director of 1989’s For All Mankind, NASA made this movie; he just discovered it. Criterion’s new special edition celebrates not only the 20th anniversary of the film but also the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

For All Mankind chronicles the Apollo program with a compilation of footage from all the missions edited together to depict a single journey, narrated by astronauts who are not identified. This makes them, in essence, anonymous travelers who represent all of us on a voyage for mankind. The result is a sonata of spaceflight that conveys a little bit of the experience of making the trip.

The remarkable footage varies in quality, but some of the scenes are stunningly beautiful in high-def. The launch of the Saturn V rocket is genuinely impressive, rattling the room with the disc’s DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack.

However, since documentaries about the moon landing are pretty commonplace nowadays, the new supplements are what make this disc stand out. In many ways the extras are as interesting, if not more so, than the movie.

Primary among the extras is the making-of program “An Accidental Gift,” in which Reinart relates that much of the great footage exists not because NASA planned to take photos, but that it just happened to have cameras on board to document the missions. Many of the cameras were set up to diagnose problems in case something went wrong. The fact that a lot of the footage looked amazing was a fortunate by-product.

NASA had been using the footage primarily for press clippings and Congressional updates. Reinart, who would go on to co-write Apollo 13 and episodes of the From the Earth to the Moon miniseries, wanted to see the images on the big screen and scoured NASA’s archives for the footage that wasn’t normally shown to the public.

The program includes a tour of the NASA film vault, where the original film magazines are frozen for protection. Reinart crafted his film from these original negatives.

The most fascinating extra contains an interview with Apollo 12 moonwalker Al Bean, who retired from NASA to pursue a career as a painter. A lot of his works are based on the Apollo missions. The disc includes a 38-minute slideshow of some of his paintings, with commentary from Bean. Many space enthusiasts may not be familiar with some of the tidbits here.

The disc also includes a collection of astronaut interviews and libraries of NASA audio clips and videos of rocket launches, plus a nifty booklet of essays.

Carrying over from an earlier DVD release is a 1999 commentary with Reinart and Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan, the last man to leave footprints on the moon. Since Reinart repeats a lot of his thoughts in the featurettes, the commentary’s main value is the anecdotes of Cernan, who provides a glimpse into the astronaut mindset and the significance of their achievements.

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