What if Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were not the first humans to walk on the moon? What if it was a school-boy from Houston, sent on a secret-mission by NASA a little before Apollo 11 made world history in the summer of 1969? The 2022 animated movie ‘Apollo 10½ – A Space Age Childhood’ explores this alternate fictional scenario.
Directed and written by Richard Linklater, the film is inspired by his own growing up years in Houston and it becomes evident soon enough. Like the trailer hinted, the movie is a nostalgic trip to 1960s, where the protagonist Stan recalls his life as a pre-teen boy who was hand-picked by NASA to go to the moon, because they accidentally made a lunar module too small to fit an adult. “Why don’t you send a chimpanzee?” the spunky Stan asks. Because he can speak more human words than a chimp, he is swiftly informed. Fair enough.
The animation is done through rotoscoping, a unique time-consuming technique where animators draw over motions of real people. The actors aren’t just voice-over artists for their animated counter-parts, but also have to shoot scenes against a green-screen to be rotoscoped. Linklator used the same method for his earlier animated films, and the approach adds an eerie realistic touch to his creations. Child actor Milo Coy plays the younger Stan, while Jack Black is the older narrator taking viewers through the past. Below is a picture of the actor versus how he appears on film.
The movie will be best enjoyed by those who lived through the 60s, it’s a walk down memory lane for the boomer generation. Leisurely paced, the story is less about Stan’s tryst with NASA, and more about what life was like for those in Houston in such exciting times (when man was aiming for the moon), especially for folks living close to the space center. The story is filled with constant commentary about the shows, movies, music, games and pastimes of the time. It was the era where families would gather around a television at dinner-time and struggle with the antenna if a channel didn’t show up right. The era when programming would stop after 12 am and the bright loud buzz of 24*7 news channels were years away.
In parts, Apollo 10½ feels like a documentary, with Jack Black repeatedly informing viewers of all the popular things and moments pervading Stan’s life in 1969. It also delves into the politics surrounding the Apollo program – on one hand, most Americans were excited to beat Russians in the space-race, while another significant section was up in arms against the staggering budget allotted to NASA to achieve the feat. Some felt the moon-landing was a government effort to shift focus from its failures and the Vietnam war. Linklater brilliantly captures the popular sentiments and public fascination surrounding the moon-landing. “It’s the largest non-military undertaking in world history. There were 20-something thousand businesses contracted by NASA. Then 600 million people watched the moon landing on TV,” the director told IndieWire in an interview.
Had Linklater cut down on the endless narration and given us more dialogues, the movie could’ve been more exciting and less documentary-like. Because Stan’s family is a fun Brady bunch, two sweet parents and six siblings (the pill hadn’t hit markets yet), and the dad keeps indulging in funny penny-pinching measures. Their exchanges are amusing but limited, cutting down on the interactive dimension of the feature.
Non-American viewers might find their interest wavering, since its heavily laden with American pop-culture references and nostalgia factor. Although anybody born in the 20th century will be able to identify with some or the other element of the film. Like when teachers were allowed to hit kids if they ticked them off. Reminded me of school, my friends and I had taken a good beating or two as students (okay, way more than two).
If you are a nostalgia junkie, you’ll love Linklater’s love-letter to the 60s. It’s a 7.5/10 from me.
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