For All Mankind (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Apr 08, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
  • Bookmark and Share
For All Mankind (4K UHD Review)

Director

Al Reinert

Release Date(s)

1989 (April 26, 2022)

Studio(s)

Apollo Associates (Criterion – Spine #54)
  • Film/Program Grade: A+
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: B
  • Extras Grade: A

For All Mankind (4K Ultra HD)

amazonbuttonsm

Review

By now, many good documentaries have been made about NASA’s Apollo missions to the Moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Among them are recent classics like Todd Douglas Miller’s magnificent Apollo 11 (2019), the comprehensive PBS TV series Chasing the Moon (2019), and David Fairhead’s Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo (2017). Then there are the older classics, like David Sington’s In the Shadow of the Moon (2007) and Mark Craig’s The Last Man on the Moon (2014). All of these films are worthy and indispensable. But none are more important, I believe, than Al Reinert’s ground-breaking and impressionistic For All Mankind (1989), the documentary that truly inspired them all.

The beauty of Reinert’s work lies in its simplicity. As a brief title card at the outset explains, For All Mankind is composed almost entirely of footage taken by the Apollo astronauts during the actual missions. The documentary is narrated by the astronauts too, in an ensemble commentary that creates a kind of running, first-person account of the experience—not of a single mission, but of the larger endeavor of traveling to the Moon in general. Add to this an ethereal score by composer Brain Eno—which itself strongly inspired Damien Chazelle’s excellent Neil Armstrong biopic First Man (2019)—and the result a visceral, illusory, and at times even hypnotic film experience, made all the more amazing by the fact that everything you’re seeing is real.

As Reinert explains in the audio commentary he shares with astronaut Gene Cernan (who was the last human being to set foot on the Moon in 1972), virtually all of the footage was shot in 16 mm format using modified Mauer “data acquisition” cameras (with 10 mm lenses). These cameras were designed to document spacecraft and crew performance for engineering purposes, so they were capable of shooting at 1, 6, 12, and 24 frames per second. And at the time For All Mankind was released in 1989, much of this footage had never been seen in public before, beyond a few iconic shots. Reinert chose to combine footage from all of the Moon missions to create a single, simulated spaceflight from start to finish. In the pre-digital era, the original camera negatives were obtained from the NASA archives and carefully blown up to 35 mm. The footage was then cleaned up and stabilized, resulting in image quality that was groundbreaking in its day.

Criterion’s UHD release presents both the film’s original 1.33:1 presentation, along with a version framed at 1.85:1 for widescreen displays. The 35 mm negative blow-up (of the original 16 mm source) was scanned in native 4K resolution, digitally remastered and graded for HDR (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are included) based upon the late Reinert’s previous restoration and approval notes. The resulting image quality is lovely, and certainly represents the best this film has ever looked. One must keep in mind again that the original NASA 16 mm negatives have since been scanned and restored in higher quality. But Criterion’s restoration accurately reflects the best original theatrical experience of For All Mankind, and that’s what matters here. Detail is good overall, though it varies from shot to shot as originally photographed, and the HDR grade is restrained, subtly enhancing both highlight and shadow detail while also allowing for more vibrant and accurate color.

The film’s soundtrack was remastered in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio format from the original 35 mm magnetic tracks, and it appears to be the exact same sound mix found on the 2009 Blu-ray edition (reviewed here). There are no cheap surround thrills here—this is largely an ambient experience, with the astronauts’ narration and Eno’s evocative score dominating the soundscape. Occasionally, as in the launch and the staging sequences, the rear channels come more strongly into play, but mostly they’re used to create a sense of light immersion. Two optional English subtitle tracks are included—one that identifies the astronauts and mission control specialists you’re seeing and hearing, and a second one that also does this while adding traditional English SDH subtitles too.

Criterion’s new 4K UHD release of For All Mankind is a 2-disc set that includes the following features and options:

Disc One – For All Mankind (4K Ultra HD)

  • 1.85:1 Presentation (4K – 80:12)
  • 1.33:1 Presentation (4K – 80:12)
  • Audio Commentary by Al Reinert and Eugene Cernan
  • Identification Subtitles
  • English SDH Subtitles with Identification

Disc Two – For All Mankind (Blu-ray Disc)

  • 1.33:1 Presentation (HD – 80:12)
  • Audio Commentary by Al Reinert and Eugene Cernan
  • Identification Subtitles
  • English SDH Subtitles with Identification
  • An Accidental Gift (HD – 32:00)
  • On Camera (HD – 20:35)
  • Paintings From the Moon: Al Bean Introduction (HD – 7:33)
  • Paintings From the Moon (HD – 37:53)
  • NASA Audio Highlights (HD – 21 audio clips – in 6:45 in all)
  • 3, 2, 1… Blast Off! (HD – 2:35)

Note that the Blu-ray in the package is the same disc that Criterion released in 2009, including the film in 1080p HD and all of its extras. All of the original DVD/LaserDisc bonus material has carried over, including the audio commentary with Reinert and Cernan. The Blu-ray also includes launch footage of each major booster NASA used in the space program up to and including Apollo. But the best extra by far is the gallery of paintings by the late astronaut-turned-artist Al Bean. Bean was the fourth man to walk on the Moon, and spent his post-NASA career working to document the experience on canvas. The gallery is in HD and features an introduction and commentary by Bean, in his friendly Texas drawl. Bean’s a real character—sort of the everyman of the astronaut corps—and his thoughts and musings are always enjoyable. The Blu-ray further includes a 32-minute documentary on the making of the film in which Reinert visits the NASA archives in Houston and introduces the NASA footage specialists who were involved in the process. There’s also a 20-minute video (mostly in HD, but with some SD footage) of additional interview excerpts with 15 of the Apollo astronauts, including Neil Armstrong. And you get a selection of iconic audio highlights from various early NASA missions. Finally, the package includes a great booklet with photos, essays by author Terrence Rafferty and director Al Reinert, and the usual restoration notes and credits. All in all, this is an excellent collection of special features.

For All Mankind is among the best and most accessible documentaries ever made on the Apollo missions to the Moon. It’s also one of my favorite films. Anyone who’s seen it probably shares my enthusiasm, and if you haven’t, this disc is simply a must—worth watching not just yourself, but with your kids too. I’m absolutely thrilled to have it in 4K Ultra HD. My thanks to everyone at Criterion (including Lee Kline, Abby Lustgarten, and Peter Becker, among others), for once more improving upon their already fine Blu-ray work. This UHD release is highly recommended.

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

 

Bits Latest Tweets

The Digital Bits
Bits #BD Review – @timsalmons returns with Season Two of Rod Serling's NIGHT GALLERY—on #Bluray for the first time from @KLStudioClassic and @KinoLorber with excellent picture quality and a bounty of bonus material. @BillHuntBits thedigitalbits.com/item/night-gal…
The Digital Bits
Today on The Bits – Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm & Harley Quinn in #4K, Marathon Man is coming to #UltraHD, plus more #Bluray news & reviews thedigitalbits.com/columns/my-two…
The Digital Bits
Bits #BD Review – Dennis checks out Robert Siodmak's 1947 film noir/Gothic romance hybrid TIME OUT OF MIND—now available on #Bluray for from @KLStudioClassic and @KinoLorber. @BillHuntBits thedigitalbits.com/item/time-out-…