America's quest to put a man on the moon, while both fascinating and inspiring, has been well covered on film, perhaps most notably in FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON and APOLLO 13. Add to that a space program that by the early 2000s ranked near Abscam in terms of public interest, and it's easy to see why the documentary IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON might be a tough sell. Yet this simple, stylish look at the Apollo space program is a quietly powerful rumination on the nature of patriotism, heroism, and humanity.
Director David Sington utilises a narrator-less structure that intercuts stunning stock footage with insightful commentary from the surviving astronauts who walked on the moon. There are no experts, no voiceovers, and no recreations. It's a style that works quite well, recalling the work of Errol Morris. While the space shots and the behind-the-scenes footage of NASA operations are fascinating, the astronauts--Buzz Aldrin, Dave Scott, and Alan Bean, among them--are a revelation. Variously witty, heartfelt, modest, and humbled when discussing their journeys into space, it's easy to understand why these men were heroes to a generation. Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this film is the way in which the viewer is reminded of how genuinely stunning the Apollo mission was for not only the United States, but the world. One need not be reminded that 1969 was a tumultuous year for Earth, and Neil Armstrong's famous one small step for man literally united the planet, giving true credence to the latter half of his famous statement. The movie posits that for one fleeting moment the world was together and at peace. IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON expertly recreates that moment, without a shred of excess patriotism, pretence, or sentiment.