The summer of '69

The summer of ‘69
8 p.m. Monday, July 20
History Channel

The Eagle lands again, but this time it's in a docudrama timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the day Apollo 11 touched down on the moon. Moonshot gives us another opportunity to relive the joy, fear and challenge of what might have been America's proudest moment, and it does so enjoyably while sticking close to the facts. Yet we wonder why the producers felt the need to dramatize events that clearly require no embellishment.

The best moments in the film, in fact, are actual footage, like the look of pure wonderment on legendary CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite's face when the spacecraft landed safely. Then there's President Nixon's phone call to the astronauts. "Because of what you have done," Nixon told them, "the heavens have become a part of man's world. And as you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to earth. For one priceless moment, in the whole history of man, all the people on this earth are truly one."

No one remembers Nixon as poetic, or even sentimental, but that was exquisite.

The first hour-plus of Moonshot covers the back story, including President Kennedy's exhortation to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade and a quick history of the space program. We see how the team came together, including the maneuvering to decide which astronaut got to set foot on the moon first, and what took place in the nervous moments before and during the flight. But it's the last 30 minutes or so, interspersed with real footage and dramatic fiction, that make Moonshot worth watching.

The actors who play the astronauts handle the roles easily: Daniel Lapaine as stoic Neil Armstrong, James Marsters as mercurial Buzz Aldrin and Andrew Lincoln as easygoing Michael Collins. For Marsters and Lapaine, the finest scene comes when they're standing on the surface of the moon; each expresses the awe that the real astronauts must have felt, both in words ("magnificent desolation," Aldrin says) and in their eyes.

Several documentaries about the historic landing will air Monday on several channels, but Moonshot will entertain even those who don't necessarily want a little fiction mixed in with the facts.

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