From The Earth To The Moon


Best Documentary, 1998 - 5 Stars

Terrific Series on One of the Two Most Important Events of the 20th Century

This 1998 HBO 12-episode series ought to be in the movie collection of every household in America. It dramatically documents the second most important event of the 20th Century (WWII being the most important) beginning with Kennedy's mandate to the American people in 1961 that we put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. It continues with Neil Armstrong of Apollo 11 taking "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" on the lunar surface in 1969. And it ends with Apollo 17 in 1972, as well as an imaginative recreation of George Melies' 1902 film, Le Voyage Dans La Lune (A Trip To The Moon). It also has a great selection of extras.

Each episode has a different cast, director and writer, so there is a different style to each one. Some may not like this; however, the same actor does play the same astronaut throughout. So, if an astronaut went on more than one mission, that actor will play him again in the episode about that mission. Tom Hanks executive produced the series, and he opens each episode with a nice monologue. He also wrote Part 12 and co-wrote Parts 6, 7 and 11, directed Part 1, and starred in Part 12. Interestingly, Sally Field directed and starred in Part 11.

From The Earth To The Moon boasts a strong cast - many of them big television names - and some turn in wonderful performances. Most of the directors and writers are solid, but there are a few less-than-stellar showings. Overall, and considering that this is a TV mini-series rather than a theatrical film, it is excellent. Space fans will still want to own The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, which form nice bookends for this series.

Here's a list of the 12 episodes, contained on five discs, with a few brief comments about each:

Part 1 - Can We Do This? - Good opener setting the stage for the Apollo program. Covers the period of 1961-65 and includes several voyages by the Mercury and Gemini programs.

Part 2 - Apollo One - Interesting investigation into why Apollo 1 caught fire, killing the three astronauts on board in a matter of seconds. David Andrews stars as Frank Borman, Mark Rolston as Gus Grissom, Chris Isaak as Ed White, and Ben Marley as Roger Chaffee.

Part 3 - We Have Cleared the Tower - Interesting "reporter's eye view" of NASA and, specifically, Apollo 7, as a documentary crew follows the astronauts around, interviewing them and various other personnel. Mark Harmon stars as Wally Shirra, John Mese as Donn Eisele, Fredric Lehne as Walt Cunningham, and Max Wright as Guenter Wendt.

Part 4 - 1968 - Alternating with scenes of social unrest caused by the civil rights movement and anti-war demonstrations, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy, and riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, the crew of Apollo 8 prepare for the first manned voyage to orbit the moon. David Andrews stars as Frank Borman, Tim Daly as Jim Lovell, and Robert John Burke as Bill Anders.

Part 5 - Spider - Terrific episode on the research and building of the Lunar Module, called "Spider." Conor O'Farrell stars as James McDivit, Brett Cullen as David Scott, Kieran Mulroney as Rusty Schweickart, Steve Hofvendahl as Tom Stafford, John Posey as John Young, and Daniel Hugh Kelly as Gene Cernan.

Part 6 - Mare Tranquilitatis - Good episode about Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon. Tony Goldwyn stars as Neil Armstrong, Cary Elwes as Mike Collins, and Bryan Cranston as Buzz Aldrin.

Part 7 - That's All There Is - Quirky episode about the Apollo 12 team, who were best friends and each owned the same gold Corvette. Paul McCrane stars as Pete Conrad, Tom Verica as Dick Gordon, and Dave Foley as Al Bean.

Part 8 - We Interrupt This Program - Disappointing story about one of the news anchors covering the Apollo 13 voyage. The crew hardly even appear! Lane Smith stars as Emmett Seaborn, Jay Mohr as Brett Hutchins, Tim Daly as Jim Lovell, and Adam Baldwin as Fred Haise.

Part 9 - For Miles and Miles - Interesting story about Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard recovering from an inner ear disorder that had grounded him for ten years, the healing of which now enabled him to lead the crew of Apollo 14 at age 47 - and ultimately walk on the moon. Ted Levine stars as Alan Shepard, George Newbern as Stu Roosa, and Gary Cole as Edgar Mitchell.

Part 10 - Galileo Was Right - Super episode about a professor of geology that NASA hires to turn the astronauts into geologists so they can understand what they're looking at when they investigate the lunar surface on the voyage of Apollo 15. David Clennon stars as the geologist, Tim Daly as Jim Lovell, Tom Verica as Dick Gordon, Brett Cullen as David Scott, Michael Raynor as Alan Worden, Gareth Williams as James Irwin, John Posey as John Young, Zeljko Ivanek as Ken Mattingly, and J. Downing as Charles Duke.

Part 11 - The Original Wives' Club - Interesting but tragic record of what happened to the astronaut's wives due to the stress of their husbands' jobs. Directed by and starring Sally Field.

Part 12 - Le Voyage Dans La Lune - Terrific ending to the series. Not only do we get the Apollo 17 voyage, but we also get to see a recreation of George Melies groundbreaking film of 1902. Tom Hanks wrote and stars as Melies' assistant, Daniel Hugh Kelly as Eugene Cernan, and Tom Amandes as Jack Schmitt.

Bonus features include a wonderful behind the scenes featurette, a special effects featurette, John F. Kennedy's historic speech, various still features, and several trailers.


Waitsel Smith, September 2, 2007

Text © 2007 Waitsel Smith. Photo © 1999 HBO. All Rights Reserved.

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