FOR ALL MANKIND Criterion Blu-ray Review

     August 12, 2009

For All Mankind movie image.jpg

In 1986 the Challenger mission effectively ended America’s love affair with both NASA and space travel. I was ten, I was going to go to a TAG class, and we all watched on live television the destruction of one of the great American dreams (I remember a TV crew came to our classroom to film our reactions and our collective sadness). My father took my brother and I to see The Right Stuff when it came out in 1983. I grew up thinking I wanted to be an astronaut, at least at some point. There’s something magical and very human – and partly Americanized – about the desire for space travel. It’s the ultimate west. It’s that which is still barely treaded in. Man still longingly looks at the stars, curious to know if we are all that is and will ever be. If somewhere out there, there could be more than us. Be it god or other civilizations. We are curious. But space travel is back-burnered, as we’ve advanced computer technology in inner space, not outer space.  My review after the jump.

For All Mankind Criterion Blu-ray.jpgFor those who still hold on to the fire, who hold on to that dream, For All Mankind is like gasoline. A documentary by Al Reinert, over 80 minutes the film charts space flight by melding together the flights of these men through the footage shot by NASA to study after the fact.

The film is filled with the gorgeous imagery of men floating weightless, men doing space walks, showing the earth from the view of their ship. And then the film goes to the moon, and shows the footage of the men walking around and exploring our satellite. A very simple documentary, it does a brilliant job of condensing the missions to outer space into a narrative that concludes with one of the greatest moments in American history, men walking on the moon.

Since much of this was shot with film, Criterion’s decision to release this on Blu-ray is not only good timing (to coincide with the 40th Anniversary), but gives the visuals a depth and beauty that trumps previous releases. The detail is incredible, and the film has a greater potency to inspire. The film also comes in a new DTS 5.1 HD soundtrack that adds some oomph to the takes offs. The picture quality variates a bit because much of it was shot on video, but when it cuts to film, there are shots that will take your breath away.

The Criterion edition also comes with a commentary by Al Reinert and astronaut Eugene Cernan done for the original DVD release that is fascinating, though not that film-y. They talk about how astronauts actually did enjoy the film, even though few get the spotlight (and it’s great to hear that most of them are raging egomaniacs. As they should be). “An Accidental Gift” (32 min.) talks of the making of the film, and it’s genesis as Reinert was a journalist who stumbled into the making of the film. “On Camera” gives the film’s astronaut narrators their on-camera due (20 min.). Paintings from the Moon lets astronaut Alan Bean a chance to show off his paintings. He intros (8 min.), and then showcases his paintings (38 min.), which are all moon-themed. “NASA Audio Highlights” (7 min.) gives some of the greatest soundbites from space travel, while “3,2,1… Blast Off” (3 min.) is a compilation of launch footage.

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