THE SPACE MOVIE, a doco by TONY PALMER (Ovation/Southbound DVD)

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THE SPACE MOVIE, a doco by TONY PALMER (Ovation/Southbound DVD)

Courageous explorers and pioneers walk in our midst and we take them for granted. This thought occurred in the light of the January 2011 shooting of US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Her husband Mark E. Kelly was described as "an astronaut".

There was a time in the living memory of many when that job simply didn't exist. Then it became a glamour profession and we knew the names of those who went into space . . . and, soon enough, simply took them for granted.

Men and women floated around in space -- they are right now -- and never even made the nightly news. 

Sometimes they would appear in films as heroic but human figures (Apollo 11) and in others as the grumpy neighbourhood guy (Jack Nicholson's character in Terms of Endearment). The explorers of space, the pioneers who stepped into a world beyond our own, became normalised.

Of course they were always human, but in the Sixties -- especially with the Apollo 11 mission which put a man on the moon -- they were heroes.

220px_Ap11_s69_31740Just before the 10th anniversary of the moon landing in '79, Nasa approached British doco maker Tony Palmer to make a film about that historic mission. One of the Nasa guys had seen Palmer's music series All You Need is Love and thought they could make a sort of space/moon doco with rock music.

When Palmer met with Nasa -- the recent interview footage here is the bonus, the affable Palmer with a bottle of Jacob's Creek red wine at his side -- he asked how much footage they had of the mission.

"About 40 miles" was the reply.

From this Palmer made his film which, at the time, was breathtaking for its previously unseen footage and the innovative use of music by Mike Oldfield, the last musician to appear in All You Need is Love and hot at the time as Palmer concedes.

Viewed today when we have seen more footage, watched a space shuttle explode, seen dozens of films set in the final frontier and CGI-ed into thrilling reality, and had the pioneers and explorers reduced to caricature or the partner of a congresswoman, The Space Movie doesn't have quite the same frisson.

The footage of Kennedy announcing the goal of putting a man (American) on the moon, the explosive early failures, the "space race", the dialogue between the USA and USSR, and finally the Apollo 11 mission is still interesting of course. As is the footage of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin clowning around on the lunar surface, and the joking between them and Houston space centre.

220px_First_Man_on_Moon_1969_Issue_10cBut the transfer to DVD isn't sharp and the use of Oldfield's music (new pieces but some from Tubular Bells and Hergest Ridge) is variable: sometimes it captures the excitement or reflective images, at other times it seems at odds and intrusive.

This extended director's cut (80 minutes) will remind of just what that period looked like -- but in the absence of anything about the people involved (it is stripped of personalities in favour of an insight into the technology) it is highly unlikely to command the attention of those for whom "astronaut" might just be another job . . . and nowhere near as much fun as professional skateboarder or video games inventor.

Interested in more about space exploration? Then try here.

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