Movie News & Reviews

Under an earnest 'Moon'

Would it have killed Ron Howard to license some Talking Heads songs to play during "In the Shadow of the Moon," a new documentary he's "presenting"?

I mean, it would have worked on a couple of levels: First, the movie is mostly a talking-head doc, as the men who hopped into those Apollo spacecrafts and were launched into the sky during the late '60s and early '70s give their first-person accounts. And secondly, I can't think of a more eccentric band whose out-there tunes would fit so appropriately for a documentary of this scope.

Couldn't you imagine a montage of astronautical footage set to the Heads' "Once in a Lifetime"? ("You may ask yourself, 'Well, how did I get here?'") I know I couldn't help thinking of David Byrne's vocals and Jerry Harrison's synthesizers from "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)" as footage of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins -- the original Three Amigos of NASA -- making their maiden voyage from the Earth to the moon played on screen:

"Home is where I want to be/Pick me up and turn me round ... Feet on the ground head in the sky/It's OK, I know nothing's wrong, nothing."

All I'm saying is that hearing the Heads throughout this routine yet resourceful doc would've been a nice, clever perk. But Howard, much like longtime collaborator/fellow astronaut groupie Tom Hanks, looks up to these men with too much reverence to tarnish their stories with things like anachronistic yet effective art-rock music. For "Moon" is another film that chronicles when being a moon man was akin to being a rock star, when astronauts were heroes, icons, saviors. They had the whole world at their fingertips -- often quite literally, when they found themselves in space, looking at their home planet through the window.

With the exception of the Garbo-esque Armstrong, Howard and director David Sington snag 10 men to speak on what it was like to be sent out there, on the surface of the moon. "We were true scientific explorers," Mike Collins says, while Apollo 17 crew member Harrison Schmitt notes that one needs "an unshakable belief in your own infallibility" to succeed at the job.

"Shadow" doesn't necessarily give us any new tidbits, especially if you've already sampled the astronaut experience via such definitive works as Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff" or Howard's "Apollo 13." (For some of you conspiracy nuts who still believe the moon landings were fake, which the men humorously address in the end credits, it may seem that the men don't give their own first-person accounts so much as they corroborate their stories.) But "Shadow" is still a more laid-back affair than "Magnificent Desolation," the cluttered, 3-D astronaut movie Hanks did for IMAX theaters that lacked the from-the-horse's-mouth testimonials "Shadow" revels in exploring.

For the most part, "In the Shadow of the Moon" is both a nostalgic time capsule and a valentine to these interplanetary travelers. Howard and Sington take us back to that time when even though it seemed like the country was about to rip in half, these men were proudly, boldly, actually going where no man had gone before, for the good of the country -- and mankind.

And it appeared as though everyone was grateful for it.