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Apollo 11: Men on the Moon
Apollo 14: Complete Downlink Edition
Apollo 15: Complete Downlink Edition

Space History Series, Spacecraft Films

Reviews by Bill Hunt
Originally written for The Digital Bits

For decades now, those of us interested in space exploration have had to rely on the many good (and not so good) pre-produced documentaries in order to be able to get a good look at the film and video taken by NASA and its astronauts during the exploration of space. Some images of say, the race to the Moon, are so familiar by now that practically everyone's seen them at one time or other. But literally millions of feet of film were exposed during the Apollo missions, and much of it has simply gone unseen by most Americans. Until now.

Spacecraft Films has tasked themselves with an incredibly tall order: to create the most comprehensive and readily available record of the American exploration of space ever produced. And what format could be more readily available, and more accessible, than DVD? Working closely with NASA and other individuals around the country, the company has poured through literally every last bit of historical film and video footage recording the events of the Apollo missions, transferring it all to digital videotape using state-of-the-art telecine and mastering techniques. And now, as a result of this painstaking effort, the vast majority of that footage - much of it never-before or rarely-seen - has been released on DVD, through a series of individual mission collections.

With all of these collections, great care has been taken to present the original film and video in quality that is as good as (or better than) the original film and video masters as possible. In addition, what you're seeing here hasn't been nearly as "filtered" as the footage you'd see in a typical documentary about the Moon missions. What that means is that while some of the production quality is good, some of it is not so good. Keep in mind that most of this footage is over thirty years old. The film footage was shot on 16mm Mauer movie and 70mm Hasselblad still cameras, while the television transmission footage for years has been stored on kinetoscope film. And much of it was shot without the benefit of professional cameramen. So you'll occasionally get over or underexposed footage, video that breaks up or is out of focus etc. And not all of the footage includes audio. Where audio is included, unless it was originally recorded with the video footage itself (as in the original TV broadcasts), what you're hearing is the actual air to ground radio transmissions, with sync approximated as closely as possible.

Also keep in mind that this footage is presented in rough chronological order according to the mission timeline, and hasn't been edited into a long-form documentary format. These DVDs are comprised of numerous chunks of footage that collectively form a close to complete record of each mission. So if you're looking for a narrator or a through-line to keep you entertained, you're out of luck. That, however, is the great advantage of these DVDs - you can see for yourself exactly what the astronauts saw and experienced, without any interference. This footage is largely unedited, presented as it was originally shot. And again, you're definitely seeing things you've never had access to before, without lengthy trips to government archives.

Apollo 11: Men on the Moon
Space History Series - 1969 (2002)
NASA (Spacecraft Films)

Specs and Features: Approx. 10 hours, NR, full frame (1.33:1), 3 single-sided, dual-layered discs (no layer switch), multi-disc keep case packaging, material divided into sections including Making Ready (featuring Saturn stacking, roll-out and pad work), Departing for Another World (featuring multi-angle footage of launch, including 9 camera angles and multi-channel audio, and pad damage film), Fly Me to the Moon (featuring onboard film of transposition and docking, and TV transmissions during translunar coast), To and From Tranquillity Base (featuring onboard film of lunar landing with 5 discreet channels of audio, onboard film of lunar ascent with audio and landing training film), EVA: Part 1 (featuring multi-angle film and TV footage of moon walk, including 3 camera angles with audio), EVA: Part 2 (featuring multi-angle TV footage of moon walk, including 2 angles with audio), Television Transmissions (featuring landing site observations from lunar orbit, crew demonstrations and crew statements), Onboard Film (featuring film footage of the Moon and command module interior, lunar orbit, the command/service module from the lunar module, and the ascent and approach of the lunar module), Recovery (featuring footage from various sources of the trans-Earth coast, reentry into the atmosphere, the recovery helicopters arriving at the splashdown point, the astronauts being recovered and the command module being recovered) and Bonus Materials (featuring footage of the astronauts suiting up for the mission and boarding the spacecraft, additional TV feeds and angles of the launch, footage of lunar landing training vehicle flights, altitude chamber tests, neutral buoyancy EVA training and a brief slideshow of rarely seen mission images), insert booklet with detailed liner notes, program-themed menus, segment access, languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: none

Apollo 11: Men on the Moon is a three-disc DVD set, which details the historic first manned landing on the Moon. Disc One focuses on the flight preparations and the actual launch, along with the in-flight transmissions made during the coast to the Moon, and the landing and liftoff from the surface. Disc Two includes all of the EVA footage taken on the surface. And Disc Three features the transmissions made during the return trip, as well as the reentry and recovery, and other bonus material not included elsewhere (like additional camera angles of the launch).

It's absolutely incredible to be able to watch film of the astronauts suiting up for the mission (you can actually see the nervous excitement on their faces) and then be able to view the actual mission events as they happened. In a very cool use of DVD's multi-angle feature, the launch itself is presented with a variety of different camera angles that you can switch through with your player's remote.

During the actual landing on the Moon, the camera has been pointed out the window of the Lunar Module, and you're seeing the film unedited - more than 16 minutes worth of footage. And the audio is presented in multi-channel surround, so can hear mission control, the astronauts and the NASA public affairs officer all at once from different channels... or individually by selecting different audio tracks.

Better still, the EVAs on the Moon's surface are presented uncut in their entirety - nearly three hours of footage is available in all, again using the multi-angle feature to include both the film footage as well as the original TV transmissions. While the film footage is of better quality, it's the TV transmissions that are truly fascinating - this is what viewers around the world actually saw on July 20th, 1969, as they sat glued to their TV screens. And virtually every "broadcast" made by the astronauts during the mission has been included uncut. You can even see film footage of the Apollo Command Module reentering the atmosphere, both from onboard cameras as well as from long-range cameras aboard the recovery vessels. All told, there's more than ten hours of material collected here. Incredible.

Apollo 14: Complete Downlink Edition
Space History Series - 1971 (2002)
NASA (Spacecraft Films)

Specs and Features: Approx. 12 hours, NR, full frame (1.33:1), 5 single-sided, dual-layered discs (no layer switch), multi-disc keep case packaging, material divided into sections including Leaving Earth (featuring footage of rollout and pad activity, multi-angle footage of launch, including 8 camera angles and multi-channel audio, onboard footage of lunar landing and ascent, and footage of recovery operations after splashdown), Transposition and Docking (featuring TV transmissions of transposition and docking), On the Way (featuring TV footage of probe removal and LM intravehicular transfer), Welcome to Frau Mauro (featuring multi-angle TV and film footage of the start of EVA 1, featuring 2 camera angles and audio - footage includes Mitchell egress, flag deployment and preparations for ALSEP deployment), ALSEP (including footage of ALSEP deployment), EVA 2 Start (including end of EVA 1 and start of EVA 2), EVA 2: Looking for Cone Crater (including additional footage of EVA 2 exploration), Wrapping Up EVA 2 (including the end of EVA 2 and the famous "golf shot" on the Moon), Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (featuring onboard footage of the lunar ascent, rendezvous and docking), Inflight Demonstrations (featuring TV transmissions during trans-Earth coast) and Crew News Conference (featuring TV transmissions of inflight Q&A session with journalists during trans-Earth coast), insert booklet with detailed liner notes, program-themed menus, segment access, languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: none

Apollo 14: Complete Downlink Edition is a five-disc set that includes even more material than Apollo 11 (although the additional discs are required more because of the simple reason that more film and video footage was taken on this mission than the earlier one). This DVD set was one of the first produced by Spacecraft Films, so menu layout and navigation is a little cumbersome here (this is much improved on the other, later sets) . Use of the "top menu" button comes in handy, as there isn't always a "back to main menu" option. But the contents of these discs are no less fascinating and inclusive.

Disc One features the launch, the lunar landing and liftoff and recovery operations. Disc Two features mostly the first part of the first EVA on the surface. Disc Three wraps up the first EVA and includes the start of the second EVA, while Disc Four wraps up the second EVA. And Disc Five includes the rendezvous and docking in lunar orbit, and all of the inflight TV transmissions made during the return trip. More than twelve hours of material is available in all.

As with Apollo 11, the launch is again featured with multiple camera angles. There's also a press conference with journalists that was conducted via TV broadcast from the spacecraft during the return flight. And you golf fans will be pleased to know that included on Disc Four is Alan Shepard's infamous six iron shot on the Moon.

Apollo 15: Complete Downlink Edition
Space History Series - 1971 (2002)
NASA (Spacecraft Films)

Specs and Features: Approx. 14 hours, NR, full frame (1.33:1), 6 single-sided, dual-layered discs (no layer switch), multi-disc keep case packaging, material divided into sections including Rover 1 (featuring footage of crew training with lunar rover, fit checks and CSM/LM checkout), Rollout (featuring footage of Saturn rocket being moved to the launch pad), Pre-launch Alert (featuring pre-launch pad activity), Launch Day (featuring pre-launch breakfast, crew suit-up, transfer to pad and ingress), Launch (featuring multi-angle footage of launch, including 8 camera angles and multi-channel audio), Transposition and Docking (featuring multi-angle footage of transposition and docking, including 3 camera angles), Intravehicular Transfer (LM) (featuring TV transmission footage of LM checkout), CM Interior Film (featuring underexposed footage taken inside CM), Landing Site Observation (featuring TV transmission footage over lunar landing site from orbit), Undocking (featuring underexposed footage of LM/CSM separation), Falcon Lands (featuring onboard footage of landing), Landing Site Flyover (CGI) (featuring animation of the landing site detailing EVA traverses and major landscape features), EVA 1 (featuring complete film and TV transmission coverage of the first lunar EVA using the rover), EVA 2 (featuring complete film and TV transmission coverage of the second lunar EVA using the rover), Lunar Liftoff (featuring multi-angle footage of lunar liftoff, including 3 camera angles), Ascent (featuring multi-angle footage of ascent, including 2 camera angles), Subsatellite Ejection (featuring onboard film footage of launch of small lunar satellite), Last Rover TV Panorama (featuring final TV transmission look at the lunar landscape from the rover), Trans-Earth EVA (featuring TV transmission footage of space walk during trans-Earth coast), News Conference (featuring TV transmission footage of crew Q&A with journalists during trans-Earth coast) and Journey's End (featuring onboard film footage of reentry and splashdown, deployment of parachutes, splashdown from recovery vehicles, crew and spacecraft recovery and crew statements after recovery), insert booklet with detailed liner notes, program-themed menus, segment access, languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: none

Apollo 15: Complete Downlink Edition is the most extensive of these DVD sets, presented on six discs, owing to the fact that this was the first mission to include a lunar rover for the astronauts to use during the EVAs. That means that the EVAs are a great deal longer than on previous missions. It also means that there's more footage to see (more than fourteen hours), because the rover was equipped with both film and video cameras to document explorations away from the lunar module.

This set parallels the others well, with Disc One featuring all of the preparations for launch, and the launch itself (again with multiple camera angles). But you also get the crew breakfast, training films and other interesting material here. Disc Two covers events during the flight to the Moon, such as transposition and docking, checking out the LM and observations of the landing site from orbit. You also get a CGI animation of the landing site here, which shows you the major landscape features and the path the astronauts will take on the surface. Discs Three, Four and Five each feature a complete EVA on the surface - there were three in all during the mission, and seemingly every single moment is captured here, much of it really interesting stuff with the rover. And finally, Disc Six features the liftoff from the Moon and TV transmissions made during the return trip, followed by splashdown and recovery.

The most interesting thing to me in this set was that, because of the camera on the rover, this mission was the first to record video of the lunar module lifting off from the Moon, from a perspective other than inside the LM itself. You also get statements made by the astronauts on the deck of the aircraft carrier Okinawa after being picked up by recovery forces.
With all of these DVDs, it should be noted that if you're looking for a thrilling evening's entertainment with scares, laughs and explosions, this isn't the ticket. The Spacecraft Films DVD collection isn't really designed for the casual viewer. But if, like myself, you're consumed with fascination about the human exploration of space, you just can't get enough of this material.

How comprehensive are these DVD sets? So comprehensive that, in many cases, the actual astronauts who were part of these missions have taken notice. If you think the spec listing I've posted above is even close to comprehensive, you're kidding yourself. If I were to post the kind of detailed footage rundown for all of these discs that is included in their liner notes booklets, I'd need SEVERAL more pages for this review. I'll refer you instead to the specific pages for these titles at the Spacecraft Films website (see Apollo 11, Apollo 14 and Apollo 15 for complete disc-by-disc breakdowns and additional menu images beyond the ones shown here).

These DVDs are an absolutely invaluable, never-before-available resource for those of us who are fascinated with space exploration. And they're incredibly useful tools for educators and historians as well. You'll be happy to know that with each DVD produced, copies of all the digital video master tapes are being donated to the National Archives and the other agencies who provided the footage, to help insure that this priceless historical record is preserved for future generations to appreciate. And if these three sets aren't enough for you, Spacecraft Films has a few others available now as well (including more abbreviated, less expensive, versions of Apollo 14 and Apollo 15 ), with MANY more DVD sets currently in the production and planning stages. These include comprehensive looks at the rest of the Apollo missions, as well as the earlier Gemini and Mercury flights and more recent space shuttle missions (click here and here for a complete listing of available and in production DVD titles). Let me tell you... THIS would-be rocket boy is eagerly awaiting each and every one. Highly recommended.

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Bill Hunt is the editor of The Digital Bits, an online source of DVD news and information since 1997. Hunt is also the Inside DVD Contributing Editor to Widescreen Review magazine and has written on the subject for numerous other publications. Contact him online at

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