Genre: Documentary, Adventure, Biography
Directed by: Mark Craig
The moon is magical. Only twelve people have ever set foot up there, all mad enough to strap themselves to a tank of explosives and blast off into the impossible. Eugene Cernan is one of the twelve, the last to walk that distant rock back in 1972, and as The Last Man on the Moon demonstrates, he carries that magic within himself.
Mark Craig’s documentary opens with Cernan, white-haired, straight-backed and now in his 80s, attending a rodeo. Sitting there with his cowboy hat on, he watches people bucking all over the place, desperately trying to hold on for dear life. It’s an unsubtle and remarkably apt comparison to Cernan’s own achievements. On top of three trips beyond the atmosphere, not without mishaps, he flew fighter jets for the Navy, and later crashed a helicopter in an accident that could have taken his life just as easily as any threat space offered.
There’s mystery up in the stars, but not so much with the moon itself. Countless documentaries, books and films have touched upon it. Conspiracy theorists love to pick holes and dreamers everywhere can’t help but look up with wonder. Craig’s film features a roll-call of talking heads and its fair share of triumphant conquering of space footage, much of it archival and worth the entrance fee alone, but it’s Cernan who elevates this above the standard narrative.
The Last Man on the Moon is space travel at its most personal. This is his story. Some parts are rushed, others glossed over, most of it shines; always with Cernan at the centre. We see him go from Navy pilot to space applicant to spaceman and beyond. He participates willingly, providing frank interviews while allowing cameras to follow him around his ranch, and on journeys to visit NASA landmarks. He lives for the moon as much as he ever did.
Craig delves deeper to get him talking about the impact such dedication brings to his personal life, eliciting similar comments from his first wife and mother of his only child Tracy. He may have famously sketched Tracy’s initials on the moon surface but he tells her straight that it doesn’t make up for not being around enough. Even more poignant are conversations with an old flying buddy, and the look of inconsolable sadness when he returns to the Florida launch site, now overgrown and abandoned.
It’s these moments that connect his achievements to the awe-inducing sight of a human stepping foot on that distant surface. More of this could have been included, and several ideas are started and promptly dropped just before they get interesting. How did it feel to fly the mission directly before Armstrong and co, knowing they would be so close and so far? It’s a question only briefly pondered. The same occurs when discussing the choice to send Cernan and not Dick Gordon and his team on the final manned moon mission. For Gordon it still rankles, something Cernan understands, but no more is said.
Packing in too much causes compromise. A little less in more detail would have made this spectacular. Instead, The Last Man on the Moon is merely very good. Watching the images again, hearing from all the people involved, it hits home. Those mad adventures to the moon are an inspiration, as is Cernan, back with us after voyaging so far to show we can all be more.
The Last Man on the Moon is available on iTunes and On Demand from 15 April: thelastmanonthemoon.com