Wednesday, August 23, 2017

From the Earth to the Moon

As a kid, HBO was pretty much off limits. Cable was one luxury in our house, and Dad and Mom would pay a little extra to get HBO. Honestly, there wasn't much on HBO at that time that I wanted to watch. (Actually, even now there are few things that I want to watch on HBO. Except Veep. That show is brilliant.)

When I was 12, there was something shown on HBO that finally got me interested. I'm not sure if I asked to watch it, or if my parents invited me to watch it, but either way I got into it immediately.

The show was From the Earth to the Moon, produced (in part) by Tom Hanks and Ron Howard and aired 19 (19?!) years ago. It chronicled the missions of Apollo, mainly, but briefly touches upon the Mercury and Gemini missions as well.

I have this miniseries on DVD and watch them every couple of years, along with my copies of Band of Brothers and The Pacific, which were also produced by Tom Hanks. I guess I went on a Hanks-produced marathon the past week, watching all three of these miniseries (I even watched the two WWII in chronological order and that was amazing).

Since From the Earth to the Moon was the third in my viewing list, I was surprised at how different it was to the other two. While Band of Brothers and The Pacific revolve around different soldiers in the Pacific and Atlantic theaters of battle, the episodes are very similar in style. But in From the Earth to the Moon, each episode is a completely different style, with different writers and different directors getting a chance to provide their take on a specific event in the space race.

This greatly comes into effect between parts six and seven. Part six, "Mare Tranquilitatis," is about Apollo 11 and is very reverential to the material. Part seven, "That's All There Is," is a buddy comedy about three bros who also happen to go to the moon together. (It's also my favorite episode.)

Some people might get thrown off between the different genres of film making in one series. I personally loved it. People were doing extraordinary things, and it wasn't serious all the time.

Two of the episodes have a documentary style: part three, "We Have Cleared the Tower," takes you with the documentary crew as they follow the members of Apollo 7 around. But in part twelve, ""Le Voyage Dans La Lune," we see a documentation of Apollo 17 in its final form. 

Even in the later episodes after Apollo 11, interest is still kept. Two episodes focus mainly on the science of the moon and the geology used to study the rocks. That might seem very boring for people, but this series made it interesting and showed that it wasn't just about getting to the moon; it was about studying and experimenting once they got there.

It is not something that can be viewed in chronological order, and I remember getting a little confused when watching it for the first time. One part takes place completely in 1968 (appropriately titled "1968") while another will jump from 1972 back to 1964 and before going through the late 60s back to 1972. Don't think that the Apollo missions took the entire decade; manned flights in Apollo only lasted from 1967 to 1972, with several missions taking place within one calendar year. 

The show did an amazing job with costumes, not relying on the strict 1960s attire but also transitioning into early 1970s clothing as well. This is shown well in part eleven, "The Original Wives Club," which features some of the astronauts' wives throughout those years. (It's another favorite; and it was directed by Sally Field and written by Karen Janszen!)

This series was a great way to get me interested in that history of which I did not see firsthand, like my parents. It also was a gateway to the other miniseries by HBO which premiered a few years later. (It is far less gruesome and not as vulgar in language.) Unfortunately, it was produced before HD capability and also has the boxed-TV format instead of widescreen.

Even with those issues, the special effects are truly stunning. They actually look like they are in space, orbiting the earth. The lunar shots are less convincing, but they're still pretty good considering it was the 1990s and George Lucas/Lucasfilm was still tinkering with special effects in The Phantom Menace

It is pretty fun nowadays to play "Spot the Actor," which I picked up from my Papa and Dad. Look! The dad from The Wonder Years! And Westley from The Princess Bride! And the guy from Wings! And the jerk doctor from ER actually being a nice guy! And the guy from Malcolm in the Middle! And Tom Hanks walking in front of a big statue! (Turns out that's a statue of Apollo. I should have really been able to figure that out.)

If you have not seen this series, do it. Find it somewhere (the library, maybe?) and watch it. I will even lend out my DVDs if you so desire. We are coming up on the 50th anniversary of many of these Apollo flights, and it's good for people to remember all those amazing accomplishments done by special people.

And then maybe if we all watch this series again and make noise, maybe we can get NASA off the ground again. I for one would love to see some manned missions to other planets, or watch other countries make their own way to the moon. Watching these shows makes those ideas seem closer to reality than we sometimes make them!

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