For All Mankind (Blu-ray documentary review).

June 24, 2019 | By | Reply More

The contents of this Blu-ray disc were originally published in 1989, presumably on video (NTSC/VHS), since even DVDs did not come on to the market until 1997. So although this is ‘digitally re-mastered’, etc supervised and approved by producer-director Al Reinart, the quality of the pictures is still limited by the fact that it originally consisted of rather low-resolution TV images and 16mm film. Personally, I recorded the sound off my TV and my attempts to capture pictures from the screen on 35mm slide and 8mm movie film were of course doomed for failure! But, even so, the contents of much of this disc seem very familiar.

Of course, a lot of film was taken in case anything went wrong. It was kept very cool, essentially frozen, in the NASA archives and what the public saw were copies of copies of copies. Their cameras had no autofocus and 16mm film was often taken out of a somewhat grimy window. So it is a tribute to all concerned that the quality is as good as it is.

It may be because my Blu-ray player is a little long in the tooth but I found it quite difficult to navigate this disc. To get from one ‘chapter’ to another often meant several minutes of looking at a blank, black screen and wondering if anything was going to happen. Also, there are no sub-titles, which is a pity as it can be quite difficult to understand an astronaut speaking into a microphone inside his helmet, then transmitted to Earth.

Perhaps predictably, the background music throughout is by Brian Eno, especially the haunting Ambient track ‘An Ending: Ascent’.

‘For All Mankind’, 24 men went on the Apollo missions in total but in a film like this we don’t just want to look at ‘talking heads’ and the makers of this film realise that. It follows the Apollo 11 mission chronologically, starting with the astronauts being fitted with spacesuits, training and so on. I liked little humorous touches like a female voice shouting, ‘Y’all take care now!’ as they depart for the Pad on their bus.

We see the crew inside the Command Module at the top of the 363ft (111 metres) Saturn V, shots of Flight Director Gene Kranz inside Mission Control, then close-ups in what seems slow-motion of the launch, as the massive spaceship lifts ponderously from its launch pad, ice flaking away from its skin, moisture frozen by the liquid oxygen inside. ‘Yahoo!’ shouts an astronaut. We see the stages separating, then they are in orbit around our beautiful, blue Earth. Everything, including the music, is tranquil and quiet after the sound and fury of blast-off. Here we see shots of astronauts, gambolling slowly in zero-G, floating around the cabin; but some of these are not from Apollo 11, although they are not identified. We see the Lunar Module leaving orbit to land on the Moon. Again, some shots are from other missions, perhaps because they are more spectacular than those from Apollo 11? We hear a bleeping, but no mention is made of the alarms, 1201 and 1202, which almost caused the mission to be aborted. ‘The Eagle has landed.’ Huge cigars come out in Mission Control as everyone congratulates each other.

We see little of the lunar surface but, because of the choice of a safe landing site and even then Neil Armstrong had to avoid an area of boulders, leaving them with only seconds of fuel to land, what we can see is rather flat and boring! Again, there are more images when the film they take back is developed. The more inspiring scenery will not come until Apollo 14 and especially 15 to 17. The problems of Apollo 13 are mentioned only briefly; yet this revitalised public interest in the missions.

NASA’s primary objective was to beat the Russians, then Soviets. The TV sent back for public consumption and the film they took were intended to concentrate on the science of the missions: the effects of zero-G, the geology of the rocks, how well the hardware performed, and so on. There was not intended to be any ‘fun on the Moon’ but some of the astronauts, especially Pete Conrad and Al Bean on Apollo 12, had other ideas, as they sang, ‘We were strolling on the Moon one day.

But any beauty we saw was usually by accident, even though it was more appealing to the watching public.’ Bean took this a stage further on his return, when he began to make paintings of his adventures. In many paintings, he shows all three astronauts on the Moon although, of course, one always remained in orbit above in the Command Module.

The public also wanted to know ‘What did it feel like?’ This, too, came later. Some wrote books about their exploits. James Irwin found it a religious experience. Buzz Aldrin now proselytises about going to Mars. Several of the astronauts, including Armstrong and Bean, are now dead.

The disc contains several ‘Special Edition Features’, including commentary by Reinart and Apollo 17 commander Eugene A. Cernan, the last man to set foot on the Moon.

‘An Accidental Gift: The Making Of For All Mankind’ is a new documentary featuring interviews with Reinart, Alan Bean and NASA archive specialists Don Pickard, Mike Gentry, Morris Williams and Chuck Welch.

‘On Camera’ is a collection of on-screen interviews with fifteen of the Apollo astronauts, which are very interesting and revealing. Apollo astronaut Walter Cunningham, with whom I had the pleasure of spending some time on a cruise to see the total solar eclipse in 1999 (we didn’t), never walked on the Moon, but seemed to enjoy performing various gymnastic positions and tricks with objects in the absence of gravity.

‘Painting From The Moon’ features Alan Bean and his art and how it developed and something of his techniques. Al Bean wanted to be a test pilot, but then took astronaut training and eventually piloted Apollo 12. No mention is made of the fact that he turned their first colour TV camera on the Sun, burning it out and meaning there were no more live pictures from the Moon on that mission. He had always painted earthly landscapes, until friends said, ‘Paint space!’ He notes that the Moon is grey, so that he had to be less of a scientist, more of an artist when painting it, using colours not actually visible to the eye. He also introduced various textures from his boots, tools and even lunar dust taken from his gloves, etc. Bean says, ‘People should do what they think is fun!’ and he did.

‘NASA Audio Highlights: Sound Bites’ does what it says on the tin: conversations and comments made by astronauts and Mission Control, while the screen shows a still photo of lunar Farside.

Finally, ‘3, 2, 1…Blast Off!’ consists of short clips of Mercury, Gemini, Saturn 1B to V, etc. The hairs on the back of my neck always rise when I hear that staccato ‘crackle’ from the Saturn motors in the first minute, which was quite unexpected when I first heard it as I saw the Apollo 15 launch in person in 1971. Until then I had heard only the deep roar on TV as it showed close-ups of the Saturn V rising from the pad. This film brings back many memories.

There is supposed to be a booklet featuring essays by film critic Terence Rafferty and Al Reinart, but I did not receive this with my review copy.

David A. Hardy

May 2019

(region B blu-ray. pub: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 80 minute film with extras. Price: £17.99 (UK). ASIN: B07Q1BL7R6)

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Category: Films, Science

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About DaveHardy

David A. Hardy, FBIS, FIAAA is the longest-established living space artist in the West, being first published in 1952. From working almost exclusively in water colours and gouache he has gone on to embrace acrylics, oils, pastels and, since 1991, digital art on a Mac. For more art, including prints of this and other works, visit, where you can find many links, tutorials, books and prints and originals for sale.
Dave is Vice President of the Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists (ASFA) and European VP of the International Association of Astronomical Artists (IAAA), and has an asteroid named after him! His SF novel 'Aurora' is now available in a revised and updated edition on Amazon etc. See a review of this and an interview with Pauline Morgan (November 2012) here:

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