It’s almost the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, so with the Apollo 11 documentary that is coming out now, Criterion in the UK has decided to release For All Mankind on Blu-Ray. The Apollo 11 mission is also the main focus, but this documentary covers the entire Apollo program. There have been dozens of docs on the first moon landing and the Apollo program, but For All Mankind is one of the best, and is certainly the one with the best score, which was done by Brian Eno.
In For All Mankind, the story is told mostly through recorded interviews with astronauts, but interestingly the more well-known astronauts, like Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, are not interviewed. At the time when it was released this footage was relatively new to the viewing public, but since then it’s been used in so many TV documentaries that it’s probably not as “new” as it was when initially theatrically released. The footage is, of course, as extraordinary as it can possibly be, and the HD really adds something to the vastness and beauty of space. The film was directed by Al Reinert, who would be one of the credited writers on Apollo 13 along with William Broyles Jr.; the indie auteur turned sometimes screenwriter-for-hire John Sayles did an extensive polish on that screenplay as well. Reinert would also go on to write, weirdly enough, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which was a game-changer in photorealistic computer animation.
The process of making For All Mankind was grueling, with Reinert having to use an optical printer and scan 16mm film and blow it up to 35mm. This process took a grand total of 18 months to just get the 80 minutes of film you see on screen. Reinert first embarked on the journey back in 1976 with conducting the interviews with the astronauts, but it wasn’t till 1979 when the idea of making it into a film started, and the film wasn’t released till 1989. The Brian Eno score was actually first released as an album, Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, all the way back in 1983 when the film was still known as Apollo. Eno worked on the score with frequent collaborators, his brother Roger and Daniel Lanois. The score has since been used in many films.
It’s a must-buy if you don’t already own the Masters of Cinema release, which is almost identical except for the additional featurette “On Camera,” which is only around 20 minutes long. The booklet is also different, so it’s up to you, the Masters of Cinema release also includes the liner notes for Eno album. The rest of the special features are the usual stuff: commentary, docs, interviews etc.