"a truly remarkable film and a fitting tribute to one of the great unsung heroes of the herculean effort"
Many men have walked on the moon, 12 in fact. Everyone can tell you who the first man on the moon was, that being the late Neil Armstrong. Some can tell you who the second man was, that being Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin. But very few, I’d imagine would be able to tell you the name the last man to walk on the moon. The Last Man on the Moon offers an insight into that final astronaut who walked on the lunar surface.
The film tells the story of Eugene Cernan, from his humble beginnings, to his career as a Naval Aviator, and to his fateful selection for the Apollo Space programme and the historic missions that he and others would undertake as part of this programme. The doc also touches upon his relationship with his fellow astronauts; the effect that his work had on his family and of his eventual mission that would see him as the final astronaut to walk on the Moon.
It gives us a short history of the American space programme as seen from Cernan’s perspective, how he viewed the chance to become an astronaut as the fulfilment of a patriotic duty and the best way to achieve his ultimate dream. Cernan himself is a very likeable figure, full of anecdotes and inspirational wisdom. Some of his stories are funny, such as the wild parties that he and his fellow astronauts would hold with their families when off duty. But others are moving, such as his recollection of the tragic Apollo 1 mission, in which three of his fellow Astronauts lost their lives in a terrible accident that almost derailed the Apollo programme altogether.
The telling of Cernan’s story is aided by archive footage showing all aspects of preparation for space missions. We see the engineers putting the crafts together. We see astronauts in training for their mission, and often in surprising locations, such as a jungle in Panama or in a hot desert.
The most remarkable footage, however, is from the missions themselves, often from small cameras on the spacecraft as they orbit the Earth, or in some instances filmed by Cernan on the surface of the Moon itself. This footage is truly incredible to watch and its impact is strengthened by Cernan’s recollections of the missions, giving us a firsthand account of the emotions he felt taking his first steps on the lunar surface, or when something would go wrong as it sometimes did. A moment where we see the lunar craft spinning wildly after a technical fault, for example, is truly heart-stopping and terrifying to watch.
Allow me to be totally honest for a moment; I know barely anything about the Space programme. I know about Neil Armstrong and I know a little about Apollo 13, but apart from that I know absolutely nothing and would be useless in a pub quiz about the space race. However, despite my disadvantage, this film did not leave me feeling confused. In fact, it is by far one of the best educations on the space programme I’ve had. I learnt an immense amount of information and it is always entertaining and never boring. A notable highlight is a jazzy animated sequence in which Cernan describes the secretive fashion NASA recruited him, which is seemingly lifted from the opening credits of a 1960s spy film.
The Last Man on the Moon is an amazing documentary that is both incredibly informative and entertaining. The story of Eugene Cernan is not one that’s often brought up in discussions of space exploration, but he deserves to be celebrated far more than he is.
Cernan has accomplished remarkable things in his career, laying the ground work for the Apollo 11 mission that saw Neil Armstrong take that historic leap for mankind and setting the record for the fastest speed ever travelled by humans, a truly terrifying speed of 24,791mph, accomplished on his re-entry to Earth as part of the Apollo 10 crew.
I highly recommend this film to both space aficionados and those like me who know next to nothing about the subject. It is a truly remarkable documentary and a fitting tribute to one of the great unsung heroes of the herculean effort that has allowed humanity to walk on of the moon.