Television has a strange attitude to anniversaries. Such is the competition by rival channels to get in before others with their commemorative offerings, usually weeks ahead of the date being celebrated, that often the anniversary itself goes overlooked.
So it was that despite a meteor shower of Apollo 11-related programming from all quarters since the beginning of the month, only one terrestrial channel bothered to mark this weekend’s 50th anniversary of man’s first landing on the Moon on the day. The excellent Moon Landing Live (Channel 4, Saturday) got straight down to business, whipping up a real sense of the mass awe felt on Earth as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left Michael Collins in the command module and embarked on their perilous descent to the Moon’s surface.
The atmosphere here was achieved largely by steering away from overfamiliar footage and seeking out quirkier clips instead. Such as when the BBC’s James Burke rather insensitively asked Neil Armstrong what his plans were if he couldn’t get back up off the Moon, prompting the immortal reply: “ Well, that’s an unpleasant thing to think about, and we have chosen not to, so far”.
Elsewhere, a US news anchor introduced “the flight of Apollo 11, brought to you by Tang, the energy breakfast drink of Earth.” And there was some sweet footage of Armstrong’s stiff-jawed parents not quite getting their son’s “one giant leap” quote right for waiting journalists. There were also intriguing references to the failed Soviet Luna-15 mission, launched by the Russians to try and steal Apollo 11’s thunder but which failed miserably.
With so much of its focus aimed back at an awestruck Earth, this film didn’t have quite the same heart-wrenching immediacy as 8 Days to the Moon and Back (BBC Two) but it didn’t fall far short. The fact that it was shown on the actual anniversary, though, made it all the more poignant.