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The Wonder of It All(2007)
Documentary about the experience of the astronauts that went to the Moon.
For more about The Wonder of It All and the The Wonder of It All Blu-ray release, see the The Wonder of It All Blu-ray Review published by Dustin Somner on November 20, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Director: Jeffrey Roth
Writer: Jeffrey Roth
» See full cast & crew
The Wonder of It All Blu-ray Review
"Nothing is impossible."
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, November 20, 2009
Staring off into wide expanse of space, it's difficult not to feel somewhat insignificant. After all, scientific evidence suggests Earth is merely a speck in the seemingly endless universe, so how could my activities here on Earth amount to anything of importance in the grand scheme of things? In reality, my decision to spend an entire Sunday watching football won't have a shred of impact on humanity (though my wife might disagree), but that's why our society is fortunate to have brave men and women who possess a selfless desire to not settle for complacence. Looking back on the advancements of the 20th century, I find it inspiring to occasionally reflect on the various individuals who answered a greater calling and took risks the common human wouldn't consider logical. There's no better example of that selfless spirit, than the brave men who participated in the original Apollo missions, and introduced the United States to the wonders of the moon.
The Wonder of it All is a 2007 documentary by writer/director Jeffrey Roth, providing a retrospective account of the Apollo missions. During the course of the film's 82-minute runtime, we're introduced to seven astronauts that walked on the moon (Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Edgar Mitchell, John Young, Charles Duke, Eugene Cernan, and Harrison Schmitt), as they candidly discuss a range of topics surrounding their experiences in space. The modern-day interview footage is divided into separate chapters with differing themes, which invite viewers on a journey from the early days of the astronaut's careers, to the lasting impact the experience had on their lives. During the interview segments, the film presents stock footage and photographs from the NASA archives, providing viewers with a first-hand account of the moon landings.
Sitting through The Wonder of it All is a humbling experience. I'm well aware of the inherent danger in shuttle flights (having lived to witness the deadly results of two seemingly minor malfunctions), but considering the technological stone age of the 1960's, I can't imagine the courage it must have taken for these seven men to put their faith in the wizardry of science, and propel into the perils of space. For the majority of the astronauts featured in the film, it seems they arrived at the decision through a combination of patriotism (likely manifested during their days as pilots in the military), and a somewhat reckless attraction to pushing limits. Knowing they'd been afforded the chance of a lifetime, each explorer recognized the enormity of the mission they were selected to undertake, and the high probability of failure in such a treacherous task. Even after landing on the moon, each astronaut approached their mission with a sense of duty, knowing every minute on the surface represented millions of dollars in man-hours and equipment. That's not to say they didn't take the time to have a little fun as well (some of the more hilarious sequences include the infamous golf shot from the moon and a jumping competition that almost ends in tragedy), but the mission was their upmost concern from the moment they were picked, to the moment they arrived back on Earth.
If you're interested solely in a generic history lesson on the Apollo missions, or the experience of walking on the moon, there are plenty of other documentaries worth watching. What makes The Wonder of it All such a moving production, is the personal nature of the questions answered by the astronauts, and the unique opportunity we're given to step into their shoes. Almost any question is fair game, from the spiritual nature of the experience, to the hardships each astronaut endured in the years following their mission. Buzz Aldrin discusses his mother's suicide one year prior to his walk on the moon, and his addiction to alcohol through a large portion of his life. Alan Bean touches on the overwhelming sense of accomplishment that accompanied the experience, and the resulting difficulty in knowing no other experience in life could hold a candle to it. One of the more interesting realizations among the astronauts was Edgar Mitchell's theory of consciousness. Mitchell was so profoundly affected when he looked down upon Earth during the Apollo 14 mission, that he devoted a large portion of his life to theories of human consciousness coupled with psychic and paranormal phenomena. He even formed an organization dedicated to his life's work known as The Institute for Noetic Sciences. Regardless of the impact space travel had on the lives of each man, it's truly a blessing for the world to finally share the experience in such an intimate fashion.
The Wonder of It All Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080i utilizing the MPEG-2 codec (at an average bitrate of 16Mbps), The Wonder of it All offers a weak visual presentation that doesn't really do the film justice. Consisting solely of archival footage interspersed with present-day interviews featuring the seven astronauts, the film was likely never intended to be a glossy production, but the lack of fine object detail coupled with several transfer-specific deficiencies collectively downgrade the visual experience into below-average territory. I'd suspect part of the problem should be blamed on the use of a low bitrate MPEG-2 codec, and the decision to go with 1080i resolution, which collectively creates a noticeable number of artifacts in quick moving shots, and aliasing around lines that appear close together. A perfect example occurs around the 43:20 mark, where the camera pans down across a black and white photo of the moon's rocky surface. During that scene, the rocks in the background struggle to maintain consistency and quickly lose the battle. Getting back to the level of clarity, I found it somewhat frustrating that even the recent interview segments lacked detail in the aging faces of the American heroes. Some interviews fare better than others, but the overall level of detail rarely exhibits the level of proficiency we'd expect on a Blu-ray release.
Although I was disappointed in the quality of the transfer, the nature of the subject matter never demands the same level of precision as a blockbuster action film, and shouldn't cause viewers to dismiss the film altogether.
The Wonder of It All Blu-ray, Audio Quality
My opinion of the audio presentation mirrors the video portion of this review. Switching back and forth between the 5.1 and 2.0 options, I rarely noticed a profound difference. This isn't terribly surprising since the majority of the audio experience consists of interview clips with the various astronauts, and a background musical score. On the positive side, the dialogue from the astronauts is crisp and clear, with volume levels that never dip below ideal levels. The musical arrangements are light and airy; adding a subtle dimension to what is otherwise a fairly generic audio track. I wish I had more to add regarding the audio experience, but there's simply not much to say about this standard, front-heavy mix.
The Wonder of It All Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Buzz Aldrin Interview (1080i, Dolby Digital 2.0, 8:10 min): Astronaut Buzz Aldrin is interviewed on CCN regarding his involvement in The Wonder of it All, and the answers he provided in the film.
John Young Presentation (1080I, Dolby Digital 2.0, 49:11 min): As the title implies, this is a presentation given by John Young, as he candidly discusses his experience on the moon and provides a frank play-by-play of his moon landing. This is a lengthy extra, but those interested in a more detailed description of Young's moon landing should find a lot to like here.
Kennedy Space Center Tour (720p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 22:07 min): Thrown directly into an interview with a staff member at Kennedy Space Center, this supplement provides an overview of the responsibilities this gentleman takes on, and the interesting mix of space technology and vehicles being constructed at the center. My only disappointment in the presentation of the tour is the lack of an introduction to our guide.
President George Bush (senior) (1080i, Dolby Digital 2.0, 8:41 min): Former President George Bush offers an introduction to the opening of a NASA exhibit (Beyond the Moon, NASA's Continuing Journey), and introduces a group of astronauts in attendance.
Interview with Martha Chaffee (1080i, Dolby Digital 2.0, 14:53 min): The wife of Roger Chaffe (astronaut) provides a discussion of what it was like to be the wife of an astronaut.
Outtake Reel (1080i, Dolby Digital 2.0, 7:30 min): I wouldn't consider this a hilarious outtakes reel, but it shows the various astronauts having a good time while the cameras roll.
Interview Featurette (720p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 43:55 min): Multiple members of the NASA organization discuss the direction space travel is headed, and reflect on the prior accomplishments of the American space program. My only complaint about this featurette is a lack of occupational descriptions among the interviewees (they could be janitors at NASA for all we know).
Rounding out the extras, we have two high-definition trailers for the film, and three audio commentaries (the first features John Young, Charlie Duke and Jeffrey Roth; the second features Edgar Mitchell and cinematographer Paul Basta; and the third features Paul Basta and writer/director Jeffrey Roth).
The Wonder of It All Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Wonder of it All is an inspiring film with lasting appeal. Delivered in an intimate manner with seven of our nation's patriotic heroes, I can't imagine anyone walking away from the film with feelings of disappointment or regret. If anything, the production offers a lesson to each and every one of us to follow our dreams and never believe something is impossible. My only complaint with this release is related to the technical presentation, which doesn't exactly do the film justice. The overall experience is still intact despite the visual deficiencies, but I can't recommend a purchase decision when the quality fails to meet the lowest of standards. As such, this is a highly recommended rental.
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