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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What’s your favorite movie or TV show (or scene from a movie or show) about the moon?

People walked on the moon, 41 years ago today for the first time. Walked on the moon. It sounds like science fiction, but it’s history. Forty-years-gone history. Outside the living memory of many, many people now alive (including me, who wouldn’t make her debut on the planet till a month after Neil Armstrong’s famous first step on that dusty rock). That’s… weird. Especially to someone like me, who’d give anything for a trip off the planet, and can’t stand to see our tentative efforts to move out into space relegated to a historical footnote.

But I have my movies.

Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 is one of my favorite movies ever, and maybe — if I can manage to be objective about it — one of the best movies of the latter half of the 20th century. Sure, it’s about an event that could have been one of the most unsettling disasters in human history — it chills me to think that the astronauts on this doomed Lunar mission could have ended up as frozen corpses orbiting the moon to this day, or could have skipped off the Earth’s atmosphere on their tricky return only to go sailing off into deep space on an unretrievable trajectory. But no: Howard’s depiction of the triumphant averting of tragedy is journalistically straightforward in style while deeply, unschmaltzily emotional in its execution.
Even better, Apollo 13 so inspired star Tom Hanks — clearly a space geek after my own heart — that he went on to produce the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, a 12-part look at some of the previously unsung work that went into putting men on the Moon. My favorite episode? No. 10, “Galileo Was Right,” in which a geologist turns a bunch of flyboy jock astronauts into rock hounds of the first degree. (See? Science can be exciting!)

And then there’s Moon (which I just posted a review of, finally). It’s the newest example of how our natural satellite continues to stir our imagination, and it’s a beauty.

What’s your favorite movie or TV show (or scene from a movie or show) about the moon?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • It was Space 1999 for me. Cheesy and definitely dated, but the idea was pretty neat and I think it has a great mystique and vibe to it.

  • Brian

    2001: A Space Odyssey got most of the details very, very right about what the Moon’s surface would look like, and what the Earth might look like from the Moon, a year before we actually got there. (It was a great thing to discover that the Earth actually looks much clearer and brighter from the moon than it did in the film.)

    I also love that 2001 treated it as a perfectly natural thing and a matter of course that we would be well-established on the moon in the near future. That kind of technological optimism and enthusiasm seems to have disappeared from American culture, except for technologies that can be sold in the consumer market. (It’s worth a shout-out to The Right Stuff, about the Mercury missions that paved the way to the Apollo moon missions, for another cinematic glimpse at that kind of attitude and drive.)

    Even within my lifetime (I wasn’t born until the late ’70s), I remember great enthusiasm for the Space Shuttle and the Voyager missions all over the news in my childhood. Now I bet most people don’t even know about, say, the Spirit rover’s amazing journey on Mars, or the Deep Impact mission that successfully crashed a space probe into a comet — unless they watch PBS or the Science channel. I find that profoundly sad.

  • Ken

    I’m sure if I thought about it more I’d come up with something better, but the beginning of Superman 2 immediately pops to mind

  • JoshDM

    Moon, duh.

  • Oh, where to start? How about with George offering to lasso it for Mary?

    I think what MAJ is after, though, is better served with Countdown, a 1968 film directed by Robert Altman (although he did not get final cut) and starring Robert Duvall and James Caan.

    The soviets are launching a moon mission shortly before Apollo is ready to go (remember, they were ahead of the US in the early days and Apollo had already killed three astronauts), so a Gemini capsule is hurridly modified for a no-return landing with the sole astronaut to be picked up by a two-man Apollo mission to follow in a few weeks.

    Basic, but good. I haven’t seen it since I was 12 or so, but I remember the scene where James Caan finds the Russian craft to this day.

    It as also a bit prophetic, as the Russians really did try a hurry-up mission in July 1969. An unmanned N1 test launch was to be done on July 3rd with a manned mission to follow days later. As it happened, the test was a spectacular failure that damaged large parts of the cosmodrome, so that was it for a red moon. Here’s a video:


  • RyanT

    A Walk on the Moon starring Diane Lane, Liev Schreiber, Viggo Mortensen, and Anna Paquin…

    This film is not technically about the moon and I’m not even sure how much I liked the film, let alone declare it my “favorite” but it was the first film to pop into my head when I read the question.

    Obviously Apollo 13 and Moon would probably be my “real” answers.

  • Sandy

    I was born in 64, so I remember watching the moon landings with my mom and dad. I remember when Apollo 13 had problems my dad tried to explain it to me, and I remember thinking that the astronauts would be ok because NASA would get them down. Younger people can laugh at me but I thought they could do no wrong.

    I totally adore Apollo 13 as well (and The Right Stuff, even though that doesn’t count here because it didn’t involve the moon).

    To offer something different, I recommend For All Mankind, a documentary produced in 1989 that is essentially a film collage of the Apollo program. The people who made the film let the footage speak for itself, and the only narration is comments made by astronauts and engineers from that time.

    It’s available on Netflix.

    Oh, and you will also notice that Ed Harris totally nailed Gene Krantz!


  • Rob

    New Who, Series 3 Premiere – “Smith and Jones.” Bliss.

  • Kathy A

    From the Earth to the Moon is amazingly good.

    It has heartache: in the Apollo 1 segment, I shed a tear when the engineeer talks about how he had recommended that they not put explosive bolts on the hatch after Gus Grissom’s hatch involuntarily blew during the Mercury program, and that recommendation ended up trapping the three astronauts, including Gus, inside the capsule and killing them. “I’m not a big fan of irony,” he says with a break in his voice.

    It has humor: the Apollo 12 segment is hilarious, with Dave Foley as Al Bean, the unusually quiet astronaut (whom I’ve actually met–I geeked out over meeting someone who had actually been on the moon!).

    It has sheer geekiness: the “Spider” ep, about the building of the LEM, takes the engineering in the scene in Apollo 13 where the engineers get a square filter to fit into a round pipe and extends it to a full hour. Much fun ensues (I love it when the astronauts get as involved with getting the LEM just right as much as the engineers do).

    Great show!

    Oh, and another enjoyable moon movie was Moonshot, which I saw on History Channel last year, with James Marsters (Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as Buzz Aldrin.

  • Becky

    I’ll add my voice to the chorus for Apollo 13 – I’ll always remember watching that at the cinema and being on the edge of my seat for those two minutes of radio silence.

    Yes, I knew that the mission was a ‘successful failure’ but for that sequence… the knowledge didn’t matter. I was just as scared as everyone else that they wouldn’t have made it home.

    More recently – Moon. I fell in love with it when I saw it last year (a year to to the day on Sunday unless I’m mistaken) and the soundtrack by Clint Mansell is just *beautiful*

    Oh and a reccie (if MAJ will allow it!) for all the American science geeks reading this – Wonders of the Solar System presented by Professor Brian Cox (of CERN) is well worth your time. Starts early August on the Discovery Channel.

    Best use of the license fee (other than Doctor Who!) this year!

  • Isobel

    I second the Wonders of the Solar System recommendation – it was on the Beeb in the spring and it was brilliant.

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    “The Dish” with Sam Neill and Patrick Warburton, working the radio receiver dish in Australia responsible for broadcasting the transmission of the first moonwalk. Great film.

    And yes, Apollo 13 as well. :)

  • Barnes

    It has to be Button Moon.

    The basic premise was that Mr Spoon, and the Spoon family, lived on Button Moon.

  • Kathy A

    I have to mention the first Wallace and Grommit short film, when they go to the moon to harvest some cheeeeeeese!!

  • History of Bubbles

    If you really wanna give yourself the chills, read the speech William Safire wrote for Nixon to deliver “in event of moon disaster.”


    I can’t help tearing up while reading it, even though it’s a disaster that (thank heaven) never occurred.

  • StrangeAgnt

    Head on over to Hulu and watch “For All Mankind” to celebrate the anniversary…

  • vucubcaquix

    It’s a japanese animation called PLANETES, although it’s more of a hard sci-fi look at the future of space exploration in general from the perspective of debris collectors than specifically about the moon. A lot of employees at NASA and NASDA (the Japanese equivalent) are a fan of the show.

    sorry, I’m a huge geek.


  • Carin

    Don’t forget the Moon from “The Mighty Boosh”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGmPEVwqDVk&

  • captain_Swing

    One word, but it will probably only make sense to your British readership:-


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