There's a total complete silence and that beautiful view... and the realization, of course, that you're going 25,000 miles an hour. — Russell L. Schweickart (Apollo 9)
For All Mankind arrives on Blu-ray (as well as on DVD) courtesy of Criterion, with a newly restored high-definition transfer, supervised and approved by producer-director Al Reinert. The release also contains new bonus materials in addition to those found on the previous DVD release.
For All Mankind is really two films in one. As a historical document, it succinctly pares down NASA's extensive archival footage from three eras of space flight (with the obvious emphasis on the later Apollo missions) into an impressive snapshot of our journey into space and exploration of the moon. If it was simply that, it would still be a very worthwhile and important film. However, it's also a story, and becomes an engaging look into the astronaut's journey through space.
Told by unnamed astronauts (although you can turn on a feature of the disc that will label the narrators for you) and using footage from a wide assortment of missions, For All Mankind seeks to capture the general arc of a lunar mission, without detailing any specific ones too heavily. The anonymous narrators help this effect by offering their perspectives on the overall experience, as well as specific technical challenges, as the footage takes us from launch to breaking the atmosphere, from entering and leaving orbit, and from landing on and returning from the moon.
But the footage is what most viewers are really here for, and this is something else that makes the project so interesting. Filmed by NASA throughout the years, amateur videographers in the form of astronauts and stationary camera mounts capture a host of breathtaking images, some intentional and some accidentally so. Featuring everything from safety footage at launch, to separation module camera mounts to the ones worn by astronauts on their space suits, we're treated to a true behind-the-scenes look at every possible angle of space flight.
More than just a newsreel gallery, the film is paced as a very poetic and reverent journey of mankind as it mounts the seemingly impossible task of leaving its planet. For every energetic scene of active booster rockets, there are numerous featuring the slow drift of a brilliant blue Earth past a portal window, or the measured approach of the lunar module as it hovers over the knotty surface of our neighboring rock. The ambient electronic score by Brian Eno fits perfectly with this contemplative approach, as we're able to pause and reflect on our seemingly impossible success of leaving our own terra for another.