In the Shadow of the Moon

In the Shadow of the Moon movie poster


In the Shadow of the Moon may not be the most rad­i­cal or rev­e­la­tory doc­u­men­tary ever made, but if the point was to get out of the way of some true Amer­i­can badasses and let them tell their story, then it should be counted as a success.

The DVD edi­tion is intro­duced by co-producer Ron Howard, whom, along with Tom Hanks, is an avowed space-nut and maker of the great Hol­ly­wood retelling of the Apollo 13 mis­sion. He doesn’t address the big ques­tion: why a big the­atri­cal doc­u­men­tary on NASA’s Apollo Pro­gram, now? Is it sim­ply that the afore­men­tioned true Amer­i­can badasses are frankly get­ting on a bit, and that this is one last chance for them to strut their Right Stuff?

In the Shadow of the MoonI can see your house from here

The biggest clue is that the film takes pains to place the mis­sions in a his­tor­i­cal and polit­i­cal con­text of the Cold War, civil rights, the Viet Nam War, and the spate of assas­si­na­tions the coun­try suf­fered in the late six­ties. When Kennedy called in 1961 for NASA to land a man on the moon within the decade, it was a truly auda­cious and inspir­ing moment. As astro­naut Gene Cer­nan put it, “sci­ence fic­tion.” The almost incal­cu­la­ble amounts of money and impetu­ous were there, sur­viv­ing even the assas­si­na­tion of the man that inspired the aston­ish­ing endeavor.

Time passes. Walls fall, the White House falls afoul of dimin­ish­ing returns. Sub­tract the Cold War space race with the Soviet Union, and NASA reduces its ambi­tion to decades of launch­ing spy & cor­po­rate satel­lites and per­form­ing zero-g exper­i­ments in the Space Shut­tle (although I must say detect­ing anti-matter sounds pretty cool), los­ing the Apollo 11 tapes, and appar­ently too busy with con­stant main­te­nance on the Inter­na­tional Space Sta­tion to do any­thing else.

In 2004, Bush makes a fool out of him­self by call­ing for NASA to land Amer­i­can boots on Mars by 2020. This time an entire nation rolls its eyes and knows it’s a flimsy, sparkly dis­trac­tion from the many dis­as­ters of his term of office (and this, before Kat­rina). Maybe I’m stretch­ing things to fine a polit­i­cal cri­tique in the tim­ing of this film, but that’s my the­ory. It’s a kick in the pants — in a time of crew cuts, tail fins, and assas­si­na­tions, the United States landed on the freak­ing moon nine freak­ing times.

In the Shadow of the MoonI want my MTV

As a nobody web designer, I don’t mean to dimin­ish the work of post-Apollo rocket sci­en­tists and brave astro­nauts; only that the momen­tum kick-started by Kennedy has sput­tered out by almost any mea­sure. After all, what has NASA done lately that one might call, bug-eyed, “sci­ence fic­tion”? I do love the Mars explorer robots Pathfinder, Spirit, and Oppor­tu­nity, though! I love robots on Mars. Robots on Mars are neat-o, man. Hi, robots on Mars!

One gripe: In the Shadow of the Moon has a cheesy score, espe­cially dis­ap­point­ing in light of Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois’ gor­geous music for For All Mankind, a doc­u­men­tary film of lunar footage from the Apollo missions.

Offi­cial movie site:

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to me.