From the Earth to the Moon
As man has existed he could look up to the night sky and see the moon brightly shining over head illuminating the darkness. Perhaps at one point he thought it was within reach his primitive mind unable to comprehend the concept of a massive rock orbiting his home world. When it became evident that man could not travel to this familiar sight it was elevated to the status of a god, traveling across the sky its shape changing as the month wears on. On the fifties and sixties when we of the baby boomer generation were growing up there was a rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union resulting in the cold war and the massive escalation of nuclear weapons. It also began a race to be the first nation to successfully land a man on the moon and return him safety to earth. Most of us would watch the early missions that brought American Astronauts into outer space riding on a thunderous rocket. We would sit on the floor, the television news tracking each moment following along with plastic models of the rockets and manned space capsules. From the one man missions of the Mercury program through the pairs of astronauts in Gemini and ultimately the three man crews that would land Americans on the moon winning the space race with the Russians. If the launch occurred during school hours the teachers would roll TVs I into the classroom is we could sit in rapt silence as the massive ship took off. Although we were beginning to reach towards outer space back then the images that engrossed us so completely were still in black and white and 23" was considered a large screen. The HBO miniseries ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ is not only a piece of his both for mankind and this country; it is our memories saved on disc as if they being recorded as it happened. This miniseries has been on disc for while now but the quality in production and excellence in presentation make this a timeless classic. This holds especially true for those of the subsequent generation who came of age in a time when space launches are so routine the barely register on the news.
Three of the producers of this miniseries are no strangers to providing a look back at this pivotal period of our history. Tom Hank, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer previously joined forces to present the award winning film, ‘Apollo 13’. In interviews all three spoke about playing with the same models I remember while watching the same news casts. This came as no surprise since the three of them are also from the baby boomer generation. The film was carefully created as homage to the people who risked their lives to make the dream of reaching the moon a reality. This same degree of detail and accuracy was committed to the dozen episodes that constitute this miniseries. A similar caveat as applies to most forms of entertainment base on historical events some dramatic license was taken here but an effort was made to keep it to a minimum and hold true to the essence of this chapter in humanity’s advancement. There is overlap here with one of the definitive films about the space program, ‘The Right Stuff’. Is the source material is fairly recent as historical drama goes and is very well documented this is to be expected. The time span runs roughly from the inception of the Mercury program to Apollo 17, our last manned journey to the lunar surface.
What makes this miniseries so special, so endearing to those in my generation is how it brings a strong sense of humanity to the stories we all remember so vividly. Each episode is introduced by Tom Hanks helping to set the stage for the portion of the drama about to be presented. The humanistic inclination is extremely noticeable in the eight episode, ‘We Interrupt This Program’ concerning the ill fated Apollo 13 mission. Instead of revisiting the story as depicted in the film they took the vantage point of the media that began covering a routine flight that became a drama that became the focus of the world’s undivided attention. The dramatic license comes in this case with a side plot about established journalists being challenged by the new type of television reporters. Some episodes are exceptionally poignant. ‘Apollo One’ looks at one of the most tragic moments of the space program, the fire that took the lives of three astronauts during routine training. Another, one of my personal favorites is episode four, ‘1968’. That year saw the murder of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Vietnam War and Chicago democratic convention riot. What saved the year was Apollo 8 orbiting the moon on Christmas Eve. For added impact this episode was shot in black and white adding to a vintage feel. The wives of the astronauts take center stage in ‘The Original Wives Club’, showing the emotion strain felt by these women and the toll this program took on their marriages. Not everything shown here is overly serious; there are moments of comic relief. In ‘that’s All There Is’ the focus is on the anticlimactic mission of Apollo 12, the second to bring men to the surface of the moon. Seen through the eyes of Alan Bean this light hearted episode shows that with all the importance of what they were doing the men had fun. Recently a Playboy centerfold that was smuggled on board as a joke was auctioned off. The incident does get a mention here.
The edition that is currently available s the re-mastered special edition released in 2005. While the original series was shot in 4:3 this DVD was matted to 1.78:1. This resulted in some cropping but since the matting was done with care in most cases it is unnoticeable. Still, a few minutes on line will get you the list that is thankfully brief. This is a piece of history and for many of us a record of our own childhood memories.