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review added: 1/27/00



For All Mankind
1989 (2000) - FAM Productions /Apollo Associates (Criterion)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

For All Mankind Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/A/A-

Specs and Features

80 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 32:46, at the start of chapter 8), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary with director Al Reinert and astronaut Eugene Cernan, rocket launch footage, historic NASA audio clips, gallery of paintings by astronaut/artist Al Bean (with introduction and audio commentary), astronaut identification "subtitles", animated film-themed menus with music, scene access (19 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English


For All Mankind is probably the greatest single documentary ever made on the Apollo missions to the moon. Its beauty lies in its simplicity. As a brief title card at the outset explains, For All Mankind is composed almost entirely of film footage taken by the Apollo astronauts themselves during the missions. The film is narrated by them as well, with commentary that creates a running, first-person account of the experience. Add to that an ethereal score by composer Brain Eno, and you have a visceral, illusory and at times even hypnotic film experience, made all the more amazing by the fact that everything you're seeing is real.

As director Al Reinert explains in the audio commentary (which he shares with astronaut Gene Cernan - that last human being to set foot on the moon), virtually all of the film was shot in 16mm. Much of it had never been seen before. The director chose to combine footage from all of the missions to create a single, simulated spaceflight from start to finish. The original camera negatives were obtained from the NASA archives and were carefully blown up to 35mm. The footage was then cleaned up and stabilized, resulting in image quality that's often better than the original.

On DVD it looks very good indeed. Keep in mind however, that this isn't video on the same quality scale as you're used to seeing on DVD. Given the fact that the source was originally 16mm, there's plenty of film grain visible, and print quality varies from clip to clip. But it rarely distracts, and both color and contrast are almost always excellent. Thankfully, there's also very little digital artifacting visible - the imperfections you see almost always lie in the source, and not the DVD's production. The audio is also well done, re-mixed in full Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. More importantly, the re-mix has been tastefully done, and is respectful of the material. There are no cheap sound thrills here - most of the time all you hear is ambient fill. But occasionally, as in the launch and the staging sequences, the surround sound really comes into play, perfectly accenting the visuals without overwhelming them.

The supplemental material on this DVD is very nice (much of it repackaged from the laserdisc version). As mentioned, a commentary track is included, in which the director talks about the process of making the movie, while Cernan describes the experience itself. There are two subtitle tracks - one which is used to identify the astronauts you're seeing on screen, and another more traditional track (that thankfully identifies which astronaut is narrating at any given time as well). There are several brief audio highlights of historically important moments in the American space program (including, of course, Neil Armstrong's immortal words). There's also launch footage of each major rocket booster used in the program through Apollo. But my favorite extra by far is the gallery of paintings by astronaut-turned-artist Al Bean. Bean was the fourth man to walk on the moon, and has spent his days since then working to document the experience on canvas. There are some 24 paintings shown in all. Bean introduces himself in his friendly Texas drawl, and then each image is accompanied by his audio commentary. Bean's a real character - sort of the everyman of the astronaut corps - and his thoughts and musings are welcome and fascinating to listen to. He gives a human quality to the subject - bringing it "down to Earth" one might say.

For All Mankind is one of my very favorite films, and I'm thrilled to have it on DVD. Anyone who has seen it, probably shares my enthusiasm for it. And if you haven't seen it, this disc is simply a must. I even love the animated menus on this DVD, which depict perhaps the most enduring single image of the 20th Century - the Earth rising in the blackness of space over the surface of the moon. Thank you Al Reinhart, for making this important film. And thanks to Criterion, for doing it justice on DVD.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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