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Flying to the Moon: Ten Films About the Apollo Program | TV/Streaming


“The Dish” (2000) 

When people ask me to recommend a neglected gem of a film that is heartwarming, funny, and smart, with great characters, I always suggest “The Dish,” starring Sam Neill and Patrick Warburton in the based-on-a-true-story of a satellite dish in a small, remote Australian town called Parkes. The NASA scientists calculated that a broadcast of the landing from the moon (also the subject of “Fly Me to the Moon”), might need to send the signal through Australia, given the relative positions of the moon and Earth at the scheduled time for the astronaut’s first steps. They chose Parkes because it was the least windy spot. Sam Neill plays the man in charge of the satellite and Patrick Warburton is the NASA engineer sent to provide support. There are many complications, bureaucratic, technical (the NASA coordinates sent from US have Northern Hemisphere settings), meteorological (yes, it gets very windy), and even romantic, before a joyous ending. 

“Hidden Figures” (2016) 

During the Apollo program, the word “computers” referred not to a room-size computation machine with punch cards but to a group of women who were very, very good at math. And NASA segregated the women by race, with separate offices and bathrooms. Three of the Black women, Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), and Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) were so good that their extraordinary talent made it impossible not to rely on them for the most crucial computations. Oscar nominated for Best Picture, Supporting Actress (Spencer), and Adapted Screenplay (Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi), it is beautifully acted. The bigotry and misogyny these women faced is horrifying, but their brilliance, courage, and dedication is heartwarming and inspiring, and it is another look at how many people (and how little technology) were a part of the stunning achievement of Kennedy’s dream.

“First Man” (2018) 

This is the story of Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. Director Damien Chazelle cast his “La La Land” star Ryan Gosling as Armstrong, and wisely keeps the camera on his star’s exceptionally expressive face to portray the famously reserved astronaut. He takes us inside the actual space capsule, all built with practical (real-life) effects, not CGI, and it’s as though they launched a metal container the size of a car trunk with an atom-bomb-fueled catapult in a process that shakes it up like a paint can at the hardware store. We feel the pressure on the screws as they jiggle and threaten to pop. And we hear —superb sound design from Ai-Ling Lee — the hum, the rattle, the breathing. Armstrong is always strong, contained, and capable, but this movie shows us the intimacy and vulnerability around him.

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