Those are the words of Buzz Aldrin as he walked on the moon with Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969. It’s also the title of a new 3D IMAX movie produced by Tom Hanks that tries to give you the feeling of walking on the moon.
It’s not just hype; it really is the closest you can come to walking on the moon without actually going there. I’ve just seen it, and though it’s pricey for a movie and it’s only 40 minutes long, it’s worth every penny.
The lunar landscapes are painstakingly, lovingly recreated, especially the site of Apollo 15’s landing, Hadley Rille. There’s some spectacular scenery there–the Apennine mountain range, the plain at Hadley, and the long, sinuous trench of the Rille itself. It’s a good choice for special treatment, and 15’s commander, Dave Scott, served as technical consultant on the movie.
It seems most people don’t remember 15, only Armstrong and Aldrin’s 11. Part of the mission of the movie is to tell the story of those other lunar landings, the ones that didn’t get so much coverage, and yet were even more spectacular. Those guys on the last three flights–15, 16, and 17–lived on the moon for three days at a time.
I’ve spent many hours watching the TV downlink from Apollo 15 trying my damndest to imagine myself there, to see the Earth hanging over the dead, blasted landscape, to feel myself at a sixth of my normal weight. As best as I can tell, director Mark Cowen got it right. And just to prove it, he dares to show clips from the astronauts’ actual footage along with the recreations. It looks seamless.
Except on one point, the only mar on an otherwise flawless production. There’s sound in space in this movie. Why is it that filmmakers can’t resist embellishing scenes of spaceships and astronauts with engine rumblings and, as in the scene this shot is taken from, footsteps.
When the boots of the guy playing Scott come at you the dust flies in your face. A cool effect in 3D, except that it’s accompanied by the sound of pebbles raining down on you. When I heard that I was immediately yanked back down to Earth to a sound stage and some foley artist spilling sand on a microphone.
2001: A Space Odyssey proved back in 1968 that the best way to take viewers out of this world is to tell it like it is–without sound in space. (I still think that’s the best science fiction film ever made, but that’s another story.)
Go see Magnificent Desolation. Hell, go see it a couple or three times; I probably will. Just, if you’re a purist like me, try to overlook the misguided sound design and focus instead on the gorgeous scenery.