Call it boyhood-wish fulfillment or the sound of a higher calling, but ever since Tom Hanks played an astronaut in Apollo 13, hes been an unrepentant NASA booster and celebrity cheerleader for space exploration. His love affair continues in this lavish celebration of the Apollo program, which makes the most of the IMAX format and plops the viewer right down on the lunar surface for a closer look.
Hanks serves as narrator and co-producer, and the production received full support from NASA. Its a clear sales pitch, but a pretty seductive one, pulling out the big guns in the voice-over booth with Morgan Freeman, Paul Newman, John Travolta and Matt Damon.
Through archival footage and stunning re-creations, the American moon landings between 1969 and 1972 are revisited, retracing the footsteps of the 12 men who wandered the barren landscape. Bookended by interviews with schoolkids and stuffed with fun little factoids about the astronauts vehicles, equipment and the moon itself, the movie rolls along like a cheerful little classroom tutorial on space travel.
But the re-creations are where the film really takes off, transcending mere documentary and becoming an almost interactive experience, with 3-D so convincing it envelops the viewer as snugly as a spacesuit.
For a time the film is completely absorbing, doing what IMAX does best by granting the audience access to the most inaccessible place imaginable. But as majestic as the vistas are, its still all just lifeless, monochromatic rock floating in an endless void.
While calling for a return to the moon, the filmmakers never soft-pedal the danger of space travel, but they do sidestep the question of cost, and fail to explain the real-life benefits for Earth. The message seems to be that we should explore new frontiers simply because theyre there.
Showing at the Henry Ford IMAX (20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn; 313-271-1570); and the AMC Forum 30 (44681 Mound Rd., Sterling Heights; 586-254-5663).
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].