"Mankind's ultimate road trip." - Tom Hanks' Magnificent Desolation
Written: Jul 18, 2012
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Entertaining, highly professional vocal talent
Cons:Only 40 minutes long, not an educational documentary
The Bottom Line: While it's not an educational Apollo program documentary, Magnificent Desolation is worth watching at least once. It's a bit disappointing, but it's worth watching.
In 1962, in a speech at Rice University, President John F. Kennedy promised that the United States would go to the moon by the end of the decade. This set off a flurry of scientific research as scientists scrambled to make it happen, and happen, it did, as Neil Armstrong and then, Buzz Aldren, became the first men to walk on the moon. Five more moon missions followed Apollo 11, for a total of 12 men spending a total of 299 hours walking on the moon, performing scientific and geological experiments. Tom Hanks’ 2005 HBO Special Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon speculates on what it was like for those men during its 40-minute run.
Narrated by Hanks, Magnificent Desolation basically uses Hollywood magic to recreate those historic events, with actors portraying the astronauts, and utilizing famous actor’s voices to “play” the Apollo teams. Actors such as Morgan Freeman, John Travolta, Scott Glenn, Gary Sinise, and Matt Damon lend their voices to the proceedings as the documentary crew remake various moonwalks.
Which kind of disappointed me. When I grabbed this, I was expecting more of an historical documentary, full of facts and various trivia, instead of a “what was it like” type of film.
That’s not to say that this isn’t entirely void of educational value. After all, Armstrong, Aldren, and Michael Collins didn’t just strap themselves into the top of a rocket and blast off. There was a lot of research and science performed prior, and the documentary does cover at least some of it—particularly a look at the various space suits that were tried and rejected before the ones the astronauts wore were settled on. But at the same time, this documentary is definitely not a history of the Apollo program. There’s nary a mention of, say, Gus Grissom and his crew’s grisly deaths on the launch pad during a test launch, for instance, nor of the Apollo missions that merely orbited the Earth during test flights. Instead, this is really just what I said it was—a Hollywood recreation of the 6 moon landings, filled with the likes of Freeman, etc, reading their lines (although they all do so well,) interspersed with actual vocal footage from the real astronauts themselves.
Although it was directed by Mark Cowen, this is Tom Hanks’ baby. In addition to narrating it, Hanks co-produced it (with Cowen and Gary Goetzman) and co-wrote it (with Mark Cowen and Christopher Cowen.) And although I was a bit disappointed by the overall finished product, I have to say that it was done well. Hanks narration is great, and Cowen’s moon scenes seem realistic enough and probably would have worked well in an actual movie about the Apollo program.
This DVD also comes with a few Special Features. The Apollo 11 Diary is fairly interesting, featuring actual footage of Armstrong and Aldren as they performed their tasks. Apollo 15 shows off tons of NASA photos as the astronauts prepare for their upcoming mission. The best feature, however, is the trivia game. In this, you are asked to answer 12 Apollo trivia questions. Answer all 12 correctly and you unlock Kennedy’s Rice University speech. The questions aren’t that hard (I had to guess at the first couple of them, but anyone with a basic knowledge of the Apollo program shouldn’t have any trouble getting to Kennedy’s speech, which is probably the coolest part of the entire DVD.)
All in all, this IMAX film DVD is still worth a watch, even though I thought it was an overall disappointment. If you go into Magnificent Desolation expecting to be entertained rather than educated, you might enjoy it, especially since it’s only 40-minutes long. It’s not the best space documentary I’ve watched, but it’s good enough to sit through at least once.
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