REVIEW: Apollo 11: Quarantine [2021]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 23 minutes
    Release Date: January 29th, 2021 (USA)
    Studio: Neon
    Director(s): Todd Douglas Miller

Please do not feed the animals.

When you craft a 90-minute movie out of over 11,000 hours of newly sourced video documenting the Apollo 11 mission, the amount of footage left on the cutting room floor is extensive. That’s not to say you should have made a longer film, though. Todd Douglas Miller‘s succinctly titled Apollo 11 is one of the best documentaries to come out of the past decade. Adding more imagery of pre-launch, moon landing, and/or aftermath wouldn’t have improved anything—it may have conversely made it worse. But when a worldwide pandemic unavoidably shelved work on his latest cinematic feature, going back to that wealth of restored archival video to create a new companion piece becomes a perfect stopgap. And what better subject than the astronauts’ 21-day quarantine during our own?

The big draw to Apollo 11: Quarantine, as with its predecessor, is the footage itself. To see it so crisp and clean is magical whether we’re floating over the ocean during recovery or gazing upon the giant Airstream unit that houses Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins for the first few days upon their return. Miller knows this so he takes pains to not let any of it be overpowered by narration or period-specific dialogue at all really. It’s about the applause of Americans cheering the silver trailer as it’s transported down the highway and the low rumble of voices talking in tandem to create a drone of white noise while the trio talks to their loved ones through a small window courtesy of an orange phone.

What I forgot—but shouldn’t have considering the lengths we’ve gone to insulate ourselves from COVID-19—is that these men weren’t the only potentially contaminated objects returning from space. This quarantine is thus also for equipment, moon rocks, and anything else that may have jumped aboard the shuttle before its hatch was closed. So we’re watching as NASA employees decontaminate storage containers and handle dirt via thick rubber gloves in the walls of isolation rooms. There are also those who willing enter the quarantine area with the astronauts to help them debrief, stay healthy, and catalog the mission’s spoils. It’s not just three people in a room, but an entire team working with extensive protocols to keep them and “us” safe. If only Trump’s White House took notes.

We’re experiencing what happens when science takes over from politics and human life is valued above the instant gratification of playing with America’s new toys before Russia can put their own cosmonauts on the moon to bring back their own. More than Armstrong and company, this short is shining a light on the heroes behind the scenes—the so-called front-line workers baking birthday cakes, escorting officials, and cleaning behind potentially toxic materials. All of them are just as important in this stage (as were the other nameless workers during previous stages) as the men who actually stepped onto the moon. This is a village respecting the wellbeing of those around them and the risk/rewards progress ultimately unleashes. And we’d do well to heed Aldrin’s words at the close.

courtesy of Neon

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