Friday, July 19, 2019

Apollo 11 Movie IMAX California Science Center


MBE partnered with California Science Center for this review

by Neima Pollak
MBE staff writer

Apollo 11 IMAX Movie Review

On July 20, 2019 the USA will mark the 50th anniversary the first landing of the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on the moon. There are many kid friendly activities happening nationwide to celebrate this momentous day and one event that my family and I had the opportunity to experience was a press screening of the new documentary film, Apollo 11: First Steps Edition (2019) now showing nationwide, including in my hometown of Los Angeles at the IMAX theater at the California Science Center. Yes, there already are other films about the Apollo 11 space mission; this new release sets itself apart by showing never before seen historical footage to the public.

Image courtesy of MacGillivray Films/CNN Films

A New Look at the Apollo 11 Mission

Most everyone knows the basics of what happened when man landed on the moon: How NASA astronauts planted the American flag on the moon and Neil Armstrong's now iconic quote "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." But there are many more lesser-known, yet equally important and fascinating details of the Apollo 11 story which this IMAX presentation reveals for the first time. For example, what the dialogue between Mission Control specialists and the astronauts in orbit at the time as well as images of the science experiments which our astronauts left on the moon.

The film is broken down into a timeline of each day of the mission. Before the set of scenes from a given day, a black screen is shown with the date and the day of the mission. For example, "July 18, 1969. Day 2." I think the timeline was a wise feature to include because it put the span of the mission into perspective, as opposed to having one long unbroken string of scenes without referencing dates. As a result of how the movie was structured, the audience feels the tension and excitement mounting with each passing day flashing across the big screen.

Q&A Interview

Following the media screening of this film, the audience was treated to a live Q&A interview with Director Todd Douglas Miller and Mission Control specialist, Poppy Northcutt. 
On explaining the process of creating the film, Miller shares that it started out as a large-scale research project, a compilation of whatever materials they could access at NASA. 

Northcutt, who was working at Mission Control and was present when the astronauts landed on the moon, sums up the impact this film made on her. "The first time I viewed the finished movie in its entirety it simply blew my socks off," she concludes.

Images courtesy of MacGillivray Films/CNN Films

At first look, the research gathering and sorting sounds relatively easy, but Miller shared with the audience that the reels from the mission were not organized at all, and for the most part were originally just a jumble of information and images. Up until now, the reels had not been sorted, meaning that the reels were one big unlabeled mess. 

Recalls Miller, "At best a reel would be labeled as 'Apollo 11.' If you were lucky it would have a date written on it with an added plus if the reel happened to have list of film shots on it.
To complicate things further, each person who worked on the mission in the front and back rooms wore a headset which recorded everything said on one long loop. This meant that the production team had to spend many hours listening in order to pull out the most valuable portions of dialogue."

Northcutt, at the time a 25-year old career woman from Texas, was the only female in the control room. This was still a strange oddity toward the end of the 1960s when the women's liberation movement was just  beginning to have an impact. 

On explaining her role in Mission Control, Northcutt relays she was hired by NASA through a contractor to work as a computress. Although she filled the same functions as her counterparts known as the male computers, her job was labeled with a gender-identifying title typical of the gender-oriented stereotypes of the times.

As a woman her promotion to the technical staff was "A giant leap for womankind," Northcutt says. "The labor laws in 1969 stated that employees were not allowed to work more than 9 hours a day, 54 hours a week. So I interpreted that to mean no more than 9 hours of paid work."

Miller confirmed the widespread rumor that astronaut Buzz Aldrin did indeed use a felt-tip pen to fix the switch circuit breaker during EVA (Extravehicular Activity). Aldrin had knocked the breaker off, but since they no longer had most of their tools onboard, the astronaut had to improvise by jamming a felt tip pen in with the broken piece of plastic.

The panel discussion concluded with a tear-jerking thank you to Northcutt from an audience member who said he was inspired to go into aerospace engineering after seeing the moon landing live on television when he was just a child. 

Run Dates and Venues

You too can experience the wonder of Apollo 11: First Steps Edition all across the USA. To find a theater near you, visit https://apollo11firststeps.comThis film is running now at the California Science Center (CSC), 700 Exposition Park Drive Los Angeles, CA 90037. Visit the CSC website for more information and showtimes. 

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