Film review: The Wonder of It All
Filmmaker Jeffrey Roth has created a first-rate film about most of the now-living Apollo moonwalkers called The Wonder of It All. This is a short review. A longer version is here. To read a lengthy and indepth review click here. The film is just over 80 minutes in length.
To watch a Quicktime Trailer click here.
The film captures the heart and humanity of the spacefaring heroes in a way that honors the men’s accomplishments but reminds us that heroes have feet-of-clay too. As a complement, the Apollo moonwalkers come across more like Forrest Gump than unapproachable celebrities. This film brings the moonwalkers down-to-earth with dignity and respect. We now know these men better than we ever did.
The Wonder of It All is divided into nine major segments, each lasting between 4-9 minutes, with the exception of the segment called The Moon. Each segment contains brief clips of the astronauts answering a question in a comfortable setting. Clips range from a few to several seconds, usually less than thirty. While the astronauts are talking the director often will show original pictures in the background (some from the astronaut’s personal collection no doubt), and many from NASA’s archive. Included too are frequent audio and/or video transmissions.
The segments included in the film, and in order are: (1) Becoming a Hero; (2) Chosen; (3) Fear; (4) Making History; (5) The Moon; (6) Back Home; (7) Columbus; (8) Spirituality; (9) Reflections.
Though the comprehensive review is the best way to really get a feel for what the film is about and what it contains, I will briefly highlight one item from each of the main segments in this short review.
Becoming a Hero
Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, and Charlie Duke especially help the viewer see that the typical moonwalker did not think of himself as a hero so much as an inquisitive, highly skilled test-pilot-turned-explorer, who simply found himself lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. “I just happened to be in the pipeline….” Says Alan Bean.
One concludes that becoming a hero is not something that is pre-planned or sought after, rather it happens, if it happens at all, when one recognizes an opportunity to deliver a personal level of human excellence in a situation that calls for uncompromising courage and calculated risk.
Alan Bean talks about almost missing the Apollo program completely, having been assigned to Skylab (which he says was an assignment no one wanted). Bean reflected, “Am I gonna pout . . . or do Skylab as good as I could do?” Pete Conrad came over one day and invited Bean to fly with him on Apollo. “I thank Pete all the time with how he wanted to help me become a better human being and astronaut.”
This section reveals how each of the seven men interviewed handled fear. But the best part of this section is when Gene Cernan talks about the aftermath of the Apollo 1 fire/tragedy in late January 1961 that killed astronauts Grissom, Chaffee and White. The film shows some original footage of the funeral ceremony at Arlington in February. Astronaut Gene Cernan speaking of burying a couple fellow astronauts at Arlington starkly revealed that “I wasn’t sure we weren’t burying the Apollo program at that time.”
One of the more entertaining anecdotes is shared by Mitchell during this exchange about making history. Mitchell was asked by a senior government official, “Do you read history?” Mitchell replied, “Yes, but I’m too busy at the moment making it though.”
The longest segment of all nine; some 21 minutes. It is very hard to narrow down just one highlight from this section because there are over 40 vingnettes to choose from but this brief list should whet ones appetite a little:
* Charlie Duke talks about the near abort lunar landing of Apollo 16. “Our spirits were lifted by 10,000 percent!”
* Cernan and Schmitt singing “Strolling on the Moon One Day”.
* Cernan’s description of the lunar surface is excellent. “How can something so desolate be so magnificent?”
* Charlie Duke falling backwards during the Moon Olympics is too funny. “I was thankful to be alive.”
* Alan Bean’s observation of Shepard’s famous golf shot in Mission Control led him to say, “We got plenty of good rocks from the Moon; maybe not enough good stories.”
* Cernan’s thoughts as he had to climb back into the Lunar Module can be appreciated by all, “When it came time to leave . . . I wanted to stop the clock. I wanted to stop time and savor the moment.”
One of the best statements in the film comes from Alan Bean who says that coming home from a successful lunar landing “. . . made me satisfied with my life for the rest of my life.” But the best part of this section by far is when Buzz Aldrin shares from his painful domestic experiences with powerful emotion. His mother committed suicide about a year before Apollo 11 launched in mid 1969, and the demons of alcoholism plagued the Aldrin family across multiple generations. The pain on his face as he shares from his painful past is endearing and reminds us that heroes have feet of clay too.
In this five minute segment, the director apparently asked the men if they think of themselves much like Columbus, the American uber-explorer? Alan Bean then brings up Neil Armstrong who is often compared to Columbus today. As mentioned previously, knowing that Armstrong could have been part of this film, yet obviously chose not to be, is a vivid reminder to the space history enthusiast today that we continue to be denied the opportunity to hear a firsthand account of our modern-day Columbus in important oral and visual histories like this film. The mention of Armstrong is obligatory at the least but awkward at best at this point of the film. But this is not the director’s fault.
Bean, after coming home, observed that the experience tended to simply reinforce whatever religious or spiritual impulses an astronaut already had. Later Bean points out how many cultures look to the heavens to find God and only to find no matter how hard one looks, he is ever elusive. Duke says he didn’t see then what he sees now. He says that as an astronaut his ‘god’ was his career and now his priorities are balanced.
This part of the film is a cornucopia of reflections from the Apollo astronauts. Young takes the time again to lament that we should have already been back to the moon before now and have an established lunar base. “It is the key to our future.” Duke, with boyish enthusiasm, recalls how he was there and still remembers most every moment when he was on the lunar surface. But it is Cernan again, who like an evangelist, shares with believable conviction that he still recalls where everything is. He can still see the tracks. While sharing his reflections he almost embarrassingly admits he was just taken back. “It’s almost unreal for me to accept the fact that I’ve done it.”
In the final few seconds we see Duke enthusiastically exclaim, “The emotion was the excitement and the wonder of it all” from which the film takes its name.
Cernan closes the film with a Forrest Gump-like description of the experience, “It was like sitting in a rockin chair, on God’s front porch, looking back home . . . it was an overpowering experience.”
As the film comes to a close the music sways to consciousness again and we see these words appear on the screen, “Twelve men walked on the Moon. May we always be inspired by their courage, dedication and pioneering spirit.”
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