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Man on the Moon
This program reflects on the Apollo missions. Comprised of newscasts which allow the viewer to experience and relive man's most spectacular achievement through the eyes of Walter Cronkite, Wally Schirra and others. Narrated by Walter Cronkite.
For more about Man on the Moon and the Man on the Moon Blu-ray release, see the Man on the Moon Blu-ray Review
Man on the Moon Blu-ray Review
“How much is it worth to prove, in an era of cynicism and gloom, that man can still do anything he wants to do as long as he has the will to do it and the money to spend?”
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, September 18, 2009
Even forty years after the fact, it seems almost unfathomable that man once took a small step off a ladder and onto the lunar surface, taking a giant leap for mankind in the process. A mere sixty-six years passed between the Wright brothers' first historic flight at Kitty Hawk and Neil Armstrong's boot touching down on the moon, making it clear, if anyone doubted it, that the 20th century was one of immense, exponential advancement in science, technology, and culture. A cosmic cornucopia of programming has been devoted to the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, with cable networks churning out special after archival footage-heavy special. Timeless Media Group and CBS turn back the clock with Man on the Moon, a 1989 documentary narrated by the late, great Walter Cronkite that compiles some of the network's historic broadcasts from the Apollo era. Also included on the disc are six vintage documentaries that explore various facets of NASA and the space program. While the material is somewhat interesting from a nostalgic, cultural perspective—there's a certain gee-whiz quality to the early reportage—the space race has been comprehensively covered in recent years by more entertaining and informative programs like the fantastic When We Left Earth series.
Man on the Moon (1 hour, 15 min.)
If the launch of Sputnik was the starter's pistol announcing the beginning of the space race, the moon represented the finish line. Here, venerable newscaster Walter Cronkite narrates the history of America's marathon to the moon. The first fifteen minutes are an overview of the opening legs of the race, from Russia's early lead and America's initial failures, through the tentative successes of the Mercury and Gemini programs and Kennedy's inspiring call to land a man on the moon (and bring him safely home, of course) by the end of the decade. The rest of the program focuses on the Apollo missions, specifically Apollo 8 through 11, with a cursory glance at those missions before and after. The archival footage is cobbled together from a number of CBS broadcasts, and it all comes across as rather slapdash. There's no discernable thread to how the documentary is put together—other than sheer chronological order—and the material has been explored much more fully and entertainingly in other productions, like the Discovery Channel's fantastic When We Left Earth series. If you're old enough to remember the actual broadcasts you might get a kick out of the nostalgia factor—there are cheesy "simulations" and hand-drawn animations galore—but if you're looking for an in-depth dissection of the lunar landings, this isn't it.
"Houston, We've Got a Problem" (20 min.)
Apollo 13's perilous journey dramatized the dangers inherent in space travel but ended with an inspirational tale of good, old-fashioned American can-do spirit. After a systems failure, the three astronauts were forced to abort their attempt at a lunar landing, and use the moon's gravity to slingshot themselves back to Earth with fuel reserves running dangerously low. Fuel wasn't the only concern, as carbon dioxide began filling up the cabin, sending the astronauts scrambling to fabricate an air scrubber using only cardboard, plastic bags, tape, and hosing. This brief documentary is comprised of behind-the-scenes footage from mission control, and features lots of jargon-y communications between Houston and the surprisingly nonplussed astronauts, as well as some slim narration by an unnamed narrator. Once again, nostalgia is the motivating factor, as the information presented here—and more—can be found in a variety of more thorough sources.
The Space Shuttle: A Remarkable Flying Machine (25 min.)
And now for something completely different. This NASA promo piece explores the maiden voyage of the space shuttle Columbia, April 12-14, 1981, using a variety of footage from inside both the shuttle itself and mission control. With the shuttle program quickly approaching its 30th anniversary—there are only a few flights left—it's definitely interesting to look back at the origins of the project, even if just to see how drastically different the hairstyles were in mission control. The episode does have an eerie moment of unintentional irony, as we see footage of missing tiles on Columbia's exterior, a foreshadowing of the tragic disaster that would befall the ship and her crew some 22 years and 27 missions later.
The Birth of NASA (27 min.)
Narrator R. Lynn Bondurant leads us through NASA's formative years in this 25th anniversary special produced in 1983. Most of the program consists of an interview with a former NASA honcho, Keith Something-Or-Other. I couldn't quite catch the guy's last name, because the disc doesn't include any subtitles. Regardless, reading NASA's Wikipedia article would probably be more entertaining, and so unless you're a hardcore NASA aficionado, the presentation of the material here will seem dryer than moon dust.
The Moon—A Goal (27 min.)
Once again, R. Lynn Bondurant—with a little input from Keith What's-His-Face—takes us through NASA history, this time focusing on the spaceflights of the 1960s that culminated with the first lunar landing. I consider myself a space geek, but even I found myself dozing. Seriously, just buy When We Left Earth.
The Eagle Has Landed (27 min.)
Of all the extra episodes, this is the only one I'd really recommend watching, as it features lots of great archival footage from the Apollo 11 mission. We see Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins pre- mission, getting suited up and mentally preparing themselves for the journey ahead. We witness the fiery launch, the long trek through space, and the landing on the moon. Some of the material is re-hashed from the Man on the Moon documentary, but the tone here is more reverential and less golly-shucks-would-you-look-at-that. Still—I shouldn't even need to repeat it by now—there are far better, more comprehensive documentaries out there.
The Time of Apollo (27 min.)
Here we see the same events—the Apollo 11 mission—from an ever so slightly different perspective. By this time, if you're not asleep you've either got astronaut-like levels of physical stamina, or you're a complete nut for NASA who will devour any and all Apollo-related material.
Man on the Moon Blu-ray, Video Quality
When We Left Earth this ain't. Though presented in 1080p, with an MPEG-2 transfer, the cobbled footage from CBS's Man on the Moon and the following documentaries appears upscaled from once, perhaps twice copied source material. Whereas When We Left Earth sports beautifully cleaned up recordings, Man on the Moon shows its age with constant wear 'n tear lines, soupy grey black levels, aliasing, ghosting, poor color depth, bland contrast, specks, flecks, super-soft images, and no hints of a true high definition transfer. The disc opens ominously with this warning: "TMG and CBS have made every effort to preserve and present this historic footage of the Apollo Moon Mission on Blu-ray disc. Imperfections in visual quality are due to the original live source material." Some of the episodes look slightly better than others—particularly The Eagle Has Landed and Time of Apollo—but none of them are actually in high definition. Here, it appears that Blu-ray is just a chance to cram four hours of material onto a single disc. I usually rate discs by how true they are to their source material, but I'm going to give Man on the Moon a low score, just because it seems somewhat misleading to have such obviously upscaled material on Blu-ray.
Man on the Moon Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Likewise, Man on the Moon makes no attempt to clean up its audio source material, which is presented via an unimpressive Dolby Digital 2.0 track. There's really not much to say here. The as-is approach means that the footage sounds exactly as you'd expect it to sound—old, compressed, and thin, with plenty of analog tape hiss and fuzzy vocals. The liftoff of a powerful Saturn rocket sounds more like a flag whipping in the wind, and the music in some of the later episodes has little presence and feels warbly, reminding me of the sound of the Super-8 videos we used to watch in science class back in the day. Once again, nostalgia is about the only objective enjoyment you'll get out of the presentation.
Man on the Moon Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Astrodome Opening Celebration (15:37)
If you're up for more archival footage, watch this dedication of the Houston Astrodome stadium, which includes a special guest appearance by Frank Sinatra, who sings the situation appropriate "Fly Me to the Moon."
Apollo 14 Recovery (3:36)
This is a brief interview with Richard Gabrielson, a helicopter crewman on the Apollo 14 rescue team.
Man on the Moon Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Skip this release and go strait to When We Left Earth. I can't really even recommend Man on the Moon as a cultural curiosity. Sure, the archival footage is neato for the first hour, but three and a half hours in and you'll begin to notice a lot of repetition. Plus, the picture and sound quality wouldn't look out of place on a dusty, 20 year old VHS tape. Did I recommend When We Left Earth yet?
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