The Criterion Collection revisits Al Reinert’s 1989 documentary For All Mankind presenting it in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc. This transfer unfortunately has been window boxed, presenting a black border around the image.
Other than this aspect I was shocked at how much better the image is on here. This is another case where I was fine with the transfer on the original disc but its flaws become more apparent after viewing the transfer on this one.
The biggest and most obvious improvement is the condition of the print. The original DVD presented a number of flaws ranging from dirt and grit to large marks and blotches. Since the film is made up of footage filmed by NASA during the actual moon missions I figured this was in the source and that much probably couldn’t have been done. Well I was apparently wrong because this has been impressively cleaned up: There’s a barely a mark in here; just about all big blotches and bits of dirt have been removed. There are still some issues present but these have to do with issues that occurred during filming and nothing could really be done.
Every other aspect of the transfer has also been improved upon. Sharpness and detail is much better, presenting more detail. The film is made up primarily of 16mm footage blown up so grain is prominent but never overly heavy except for instances where it couldn’t have been helped during the original filming. The original DVD also had its fair share of artifacts, most notable in the flames present in the launch sequence. Those are also now gone. Colours and black levels are also much better as are flesh tones, which look a little more natural here. Overall the transfer is crisper and cleaner.
I was pleasantly surprised with the transfer since I was expecting a mild improvement and ended up getting a rather stunning, sharp picture that greatly improved over the original DVD release. 8/10
All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion’s new edition of For All Mankind ports over most of the features found on the original DVD and adds a couple more.
First is the audio commentary by director Al Reinert and Apollo 17 commander Eugene A. Cernan, dubbed the last man to step on the moon. The commentary is the exact same one recorded for the original DVD release. The film is only 80-minutes long so it’s a very brief track but no less interesting. The two have been thankfully recorded together and give each other an equal amount of time. Reinert comments mostly on why he made the film (to put the NASA footage taken from the missions on the big screen), putting the film together, which includes the long process of gathering footage and cutting it together, the decision on editing footage from multiple missions together to make it feel like one mission with an “anonymous three man crew.” He also covers the process of blowing up 16mm film and getting around some of the inherent problems in the footage he was dealing with.
Cernan on the other hand talks specifically about the missions, his in particular, and also serves to put the film in context, also pointing out on occasion what mission certain clips are from, or even pointing out some of his fellow astronauts. He gets into the spiritual aspects of flying to the moon and shares his fond memories. Altogether the two provide a quick moving, informative track.
All other features are found under the “Supplements” menu.
New to this DVD is the making-of documentary An Accidental Gift: The Making of For All Mankind. It expands further on Reinert’s contributions to the commentary that got into putting the film together. I had an idea as to how difficult this film would have been to put together but this documentary really gets into what a job it was. Reinert talks about going into NASA for a period of years and going through all of the footage and picking out material to be used for the film. He also went to the originals to get the scenes he wanted for the film, which in itself was also a process since the film is actually frozen (in a nice bit we actually get a small tour of the vaults) which meant it needed to be thawed to be used. We get interviews with some of NASA’s film archivists/editors including Dan Pickard, Check Welch, Morris Williams, and Mike Gentry, who all cover how the actual footage was shot and then the process that goes into preserving it and what it’s used for. What gets pointed out a lot is that the footage was shot for scientific purposes or for engineering to review in case any issues arose but in the process they “accidentally” caught some wonderful, beautiful images which Reinert scooped up with glee for his film. It’s starts out like most Criterion making-ofs, with plenty of talking heads but it gets better presenting additional footage not used in the film and of course gives a tour of various points of NASA’s film vault. It’s an excellent documentary, maybe the best feature on here. It’s divided into 6 chapters.
Also new here is On Camera, which is a collection of Al Reinert’s favourite interviews with astronauts that were used in other films such as The Wonder of it All, The Other Side of the Moon, and Our Planet Earth. It runs 20-minutes and presents interview bits with Charlie Duke, Al Worden, Neil Armstrong, Charles Conrad Jr., William Anders, James Lovell, Michael Collins, Stuart Roosa, Edwin Aldrin, Edgar Mitchell, Eugene Cernan, James Irwin, John Young, Frank Borman, and Rusty Schweickart. There’s a variety of opinions, experiences, and anecdotes shared throughout including spiritual experiences (expressed differently by each astronaut), feelings about the missions and the current state of space exploration, dealing with depression after the mission was over, the effects its had on their outlook on life, and even share some humourous stories. It’s an excellent piece put together by Reinert and makes up for the lack of interviews on the original DVD release.
Carried over for the most part from the original DVD is Paintings From the Moon, which presents 32 paintings by Al Bean, an astronaut turned artist who paints depictions from the moon missions. This feature is somewhat different from how it was presented on the original DVD. Again there is an introduction by Bean but where it was a 4-minute audio recording on the original DVD it’s now a 7-minute video piece recorded recently. Again Bean goes over how he got into painting but he also gives a tour of his studio and even shows some of his techniques and how he uses actual “souvenirs” from his mission to the moon in his work. The artwork presentation is also better here. The original DVD presented an index of the paintings which you selected. You’d then get an audio recording of Bean talking about the piece. The presentation here is more of a gallery displaying the paintings. You then select the painting and are presented with a full screen presentation and then an audio recording of Bean explaining the piece. There’s also a title and date displayed. Unlike the original presentation you can also “Play All”. In total its 38-minutes. Unfortunately not all paintings have made it over to this release, the original presenting 32 while this only presents 24 and some of the ones missing have been replaced with newer ones that Bean painted after that DVD release. For the paintings that did make it over the same audio description by Bean has been used and he has recorded new ones for the newer paintings. I’m not sure why Criterion couldn’t port over all of the paintings. I suspect maybe Bean had a say on what made it. This is disappointing but is thankfully the only area where the features weren’t completely moved over.
NASA Audio Highlights is another feature ported over, and includes 21 recordings totaling about 7-minutes. Everything appears to be here and you get some of the more famous quotes including the classic “blast off”, “one giant step…”, and of course “Houston, we have a problem.” You can play all of the clips or select them one by one from the index. They then play over the menu.
Also pulled over is 3, 2, 1…Blast off!, which is two and a half minutes of footage from 5 rocket launches. The presentation differs slightly from the original DVD, which brought each launch as its own chapter. Here it’s one chapter divided by title screens.
And, like with the original DVD, there’s a subtitle option that identified astronauts and other members of NASA that appear on screen. This is accessed through the “Setup” screen or by using the “Subtitle” button on your remote. It’s a nice feature but I don’t recommend watching the movie the first time with them as they do sort of ruin the experience.
The original DVD came with a small insert but this one comes with a nice 24-page booklet that includes a nice essay on the film by Terrence Rafferty. And thankfully Reinert’s essay found in the original insert is carried over where Reinert talks about the missions, footage, and his intentions for the film.
While not everything technically made it over most of it did and Criterion has included a couple of new features well worth looking through. At $29.95 (cheaper than the original DVD) that makes this release a bargain. The supplements are extensive and interesting, nicely covering the making of the film and further delving into the moon missions. 9/10