How quickly we forget our accomplishments. It was not long ago that the thought of sending a man into space was a far-fetched concept. The thought of landing a man on the moon was pure science fiction. Once the space race heated up, however, all boundaries were eclipsed. We succeeded in reaching the moon, and eventually space flight became a regular occurrence. It is easy to take for granted the miracles that were performed during the early days.
Thankfully, the folks at Spacecraft Films are here to remind …s. Utilizing existing NASA footage, this three-disc set is a glimpse into the wonder of the Saturn rocket program like it has never been seen before. Since these launches were so groundbreaking and experimental, NASA went to great lengths to capture as much of the process on film as possible, often utilizing 16mm film stock. Reels upon reels of that footage is showcased here, most of it in a raw and uncut form.
The main attraction is a 40-minute documentary that gives a brief overview of the entire Saturn program, from inception through its final flight. This is a very important piece, as it puts all of the raw footage in context, and helps to explain what the viewer is seeing throughout the remaining discs. The piece is a bit on the technical side, but attempts are made to help explain these technicalities as best as possible. All told, it is a surprisingly moving and inspiring documentary piece.
I was completely shocked to see that the documentary is available in Dolby Digital 5.1, in addition to the expected 2.0 format. Normally, there would be no real reason for a documentary to be presented in 5.1, but we’re not talking about just any topic, either. Everything about this story is huge, and the audio track is a perfect compliment. Especially fun is the 5.1 mix available with some of the rocket launches. This wonderful addition really makes the viewer feel like they are there in person, standing on the edge of the launch tower as a real life Saturn rocket lifts off terra firma. This one’s gonna’ give your subwoofer a workout!
Most surprising, however, is the truly moving orchestral score that accompanies much of the documentary. I was shocked to find myself emotionally involved in the powerful music and rich images presented here. This is a first-class piece, all the way around.
On the one hand, this is certainly not new footage. Many of the source reels utilized for this project are filled with grain, dust, major blemishes, discoloration or even broadcast static. On the other hand, we are talking about test footage from the 1960’s here. Some shots look horrible, and some are breathtaking. Black and white images from inside a rocket’s fuel tank while orbiting earth are often very hard to decipher. 16mm footage from the outside of the rocket, however, is glorious. Rating the video quality of this release is a unique exercise. The real miracle of this title is not the quality of the footage, it is that it exists at all.
The bulk of the material on this set can be considered “Special Features”. Disc One contains uncut footage of the manufacture and assembly of the rockets, as well as test firing, launch and on-board footage. With one exception, all are presented without audio, as none was originally recorded. Disc Two focuses on the launches, with footage from every Saturn rocket mission included. Most of these come with multiple angles and that previously mentioned 5.1 audio track. The Third and final disc focuses on the Apollo 7 mission, with no less than 35 different views of the launch. These days, many films come with a bonus disc of added content, but few can compare with the vastness of the footage included with this title.
While I found this set simply fascinating, I am well aware that not everyone will share in my enthusiasm for this project. Later films in this series may be much more interesting and exciting to the general public, as they will deal with manned missions. The Saturn missions, however, were an important first step in the quest to push the boundaries of space. If you are a space fan or a science geek, this is an invaluable history lesson that you simply cannot miss.
Special Features List
- Spectacular multi-angle footage from all Saturn I and IB launches
- Extensive full-duration pad camera footage of the Apollo 7 launch
- Rare onboard camera pod footage
- …and much more