Eastern Iowa has a unique opportunity afforded to no other residents of the state outside of Des Moines.
On March 1, CNN and Neon Films released for the motion picture screen, a movie such as has never before been seen. Titled “Apollo 11,” it premiered at IMAX theatres across the country. For Iowa, it is only being shown in two locations, West Des Moines and Marion.
The film will play at the Collins Road Theatre at least through Thursday, March 21. See the theater’s website for a full listing of dates and times.
Most are familiar with the story of Apollo 11 and mankind’s landing on the moon, but know it only via blurred images and scratchy audio broadcasts.
The movie Apollo 11, is the real thing, brought to life by incredibly clear and vibrant 70 millimeter film. NASA, with production company MGM, in the 1960s, had planned on editing a motion picture documenting manned space missions. To generate the greatest definition and highest resolution imagery, a larger format 65 millimeter film was chosen, similar to that used in today’s IMAX venues.
MGM, however, canceled the project a month before the intended launch of Apollo 11, leaving NASA in possession of already shot film and thousands of feet of unused rolls. Without a major production company, the remaining canisters of film were loaded into cameras and placed in a variety of angles different from what would be captured by the 16 millimeter cameras already covering the mission. These included scenes inside Mission Control, close-ups of the Saturn V rocket, and the astronauts themselves. It also was distinct in that several reels also were devoted to capturing the public’s response to the flight.
Although a public relations short was put together with some of the film following the successful space mission, unfortunately no major motion picture was released of the historic voyage. Following production of the public relations piece, the reels were sent to the National Archives in suburban Washington, D.C. and placed in storage. They remained there for nearly a half century until CNN, planning a documentary for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, found the forgotten film and converted it to a digital format appropriate for 21st century projectors.
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Combining the clarity of the larger size film with high definition digital imagery, the Apollo 11 movie allows generations who remember the iconic 1969 mission to live its exhilaration and pride all over again, this time in brilliant color on a 50-foot screen, instead of on a 19-inch oscillating black and white television.
As impressive as it was then, in the confines of your living room, this time it is brought to life seemingly larger than life itself.
For those too young to recall the experience, this production is a chance to feel immersed in the latest computer-generated special effects, in dazzling cinematography with a riveting soundtrack. Yet, it is all real.
It is a chance to be reminded of, or show for the first time, the event that changed the way we look at the heavens.
• David V. Wendell is a Marion historian, author and special events coordinator specializing in American history.