Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo

Director & Film Editor: David Fairhead / Producers: Gareth Dodds & Keith Haviland / a Haviland Digital production / 100 minutes

We’ll make this film review simple and straightforward: Mission Control is a wonderful movie. Go see it.” Eric Berger, Ars Technica

A riveting new documentary about NASA’s journey to the moon [which] pays tribute to the many behind-the-scenes heroes of the Apollo program.” Hanneke Weitering, Space.com

Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo debuted to a packed house. The 100-minute flick, which features the behind-the-scenes men from the Apollo era during America’s moon shots, is beautifully shot and rich with detail and history.” Jim Clash, Forbes

An engrossing behind-the-scenes look at the flight controllers and support crews that helped America win the space race.” Joe Leydon, Variety 

Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo is a love letter to the Apollo space program of 1961-1972, proposed by President John F. Kennedy as a response to the perceived technological superiority of the Soviet Union… And while the tone is evidently one of admiration, the film never becomes mired in cheap sentimentality, due in no small part to composer Chris Roe’s elegiac yet even-handed score.

As a documentary, Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo doesn’t take any chances in terms of narrative — it’s traditionally structured and straightforward. And yet, watching and listening to the montage of Apollo 8 as it travels behind the moon and loses all communication with NASA is as exciting a sequence as anything you’re likely to see in multiplexes this year.” Carlos Cuevas, Critical Movie Critics

Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo is one of the most cinematic documentaries of the past few years and this is the case not because of any visual trickery, but because of the depth of Fairhead’s storytelling. Most people will have watched half a dozen films documenting human exploration of space, but here is a film which tells a story otherwise untold and shines a light on the unsung work of people who’s pivotal role in the development of space flight has long been impenetrable to those on the outside.” Tim Abrams, Short.com

Now Kraft’s contribution, and those of the many flight controllers who worked under him, have been brought into sharp relief in a beautifully shot, feature-length documentary, Mission Control: The unsung heroes of Apollo… Set to an atmospheric score and with striking CGI recreations of Apollo mission events, Fairhead’s film is hugely watchable.” Paul Marks, New Scientist

As far as I’m aware there has not been a film produced and dedicated to the genuine unsung heroes of Mission Control who shined so spectacularly during the transcendent era of NASA first landing men on the moon.  And my question is…….Why the hell not?!

Well, the good news is that thanks to British Director and expert Editor David Fairhead now there finally is at last a fitting tribute to the extraordinary pioneers who were so crucially instrumental in rocketing The United States to victory in “The Space Race” of the 1960’s and ’70’s.  For we now have the stunning new documentary “Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo”.  And, man, I’m here to tell ya it is worth the wait!” John Smistad, Quickflick Critic

“…perhaps surprisingly for a film about men blasting off in rockets, the focus of the narrative is the people whose feet remained fixed on terra firma… A thoroughly enjoyable documentary, Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo is an incredible and nostalgic portrait of a team of humble engineers who managed to pull off the feat of the century.” Iain Todd, Sky at Night magazine.

David Fairhead’s simple but effective documentary Mission Control is a chance for the men who worked on the Apollo missions at NASA’s HQ while the astronauts were perilously up in space to tell their stories… Even though you already know the mission’s success, that doesn’t change the fact that Mission Control is still a very gripping locked room drama, helped in part by the great soundtrack.” Bakchormeeboy

“Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo is a well-crafted, revealing British documentary reuniting the surviving team members entrusted with safely taking astronauts to the moon and back… Filmmaker David Fairhead, who edited 2016’s “The Last Man on the Moon,” profiling the late Gene Cernan, creates a vivid atmosphere (chain-smoking seemed to part of the job description) combining a remarkable amount of archival footage with audio recordings and computer simulations.

But it’s those insightful contemporary interviews with the likes of Cernan and Jim Lovell, and, especially Chris Kraft, acknowledged as the creator of Mission Control, and Gene Kranz (played by Ed Harris in Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13”), who still favors military crew cuts, that effectively hit home.

There’s something undeniably moving about seeing the reunified flight directors and controllers, most now in their 80s and 90s, seated at their original command posts, reflecting on their shared triumphs and tragedies while acknowledging the toll all those stress-filled hours would often take on their family life.” Michael Rechtshaffen, LA Times

Haviland, Dodds, and company make excellent films. Clearly, they have the connections and the credibility with NASA veterans, but they also know how to craft a snappy and informative package.” Joe Bendel, JB Spins

“…this isn’t a “small” documentary. Director David Fairhead has presented something that can almost best be viewed on the wide screen, sculpting dramatic moments in NASA history with an impressive array of tightly-edited intimate footage inside Mission Control, heartfelt interviews with many from the original staff, familiar shots of the the rockets at launch & mid-flight, and an epic film score. Digital re-enactments fill in the “blanks,” but not in a way that feels intrusive or that takes you out of the milieu of the time period.” Val D’Orazio, Forces of Geek

Combining talking-head interview segments with archival footage and animated re-creations of key events, particularly of the nearly disastrous flight of Apollo 13, Fairhead has crafted a compelling and often genuinely exciting chronicle of the race to the moon. Hearing the crew of Apollo 8 recite the biblical passage from the Book of Genesis as it orbited the moon on Christmas Eve 1968 recalls a moment when the whole world was intently following the mission.” Soren Andersen, Seattle Times

Mission Control excels in its pacing and execution.  Even if you already know how the missions end, the filmmaker successfully builds suspension and tension.  The Apollo program spanned approximately a decade, and hundreds of people worked in mission control during that period, but by focusing on a few key people who were present for all (or nearly all) of that time, the documentary gives the audience characters to connect to and root for.

Rather than getting bogged down in jargon and the specifics of the math and science behind mission control and the challenges that were faced, Fairhead’s film keeps to focusing on the people in the control room: on their long hours, emotions, and dedication to the success of the mission.  Audiences looking for a detailed analysis of Apollo era hardware and computer systems may be left disappointed, but most viewers will find that the decision to focus on individuals prevents the film from feeling like a science textbook.” Addison Wylie, Wylie Writes

I’ve not seen a documentary in ages with such a finely judged score. It’s moving when it needs to be, serene when required and it deftly projects an unobtrusive but powerful emotional presence. Take a bow, composer Chris Roe. Director Fairhead’s background is in editing and this film is, unsurprisingly, beautifully cut… No matter. This beautifully made film has one stand out scene, a reenactment of Jim Lovell’s second most famous time in space and to my enormous surprise I got extremely emotional and acted just like the interviewees said they had reacted when it had actually happened on Christmas Eve, 1968. As Anders, Lovell and Borman came out from orbiting the dark side of the moon, seeing the famous ‘Earthrise’ for the first time, the three astronauts delivered a message to the world. I knew about this event before but the presentation of the moment in the documentary was so well done, I got swept up in the fresh telling… If you have any interest in mankind’s ambition to reach the stars, then this is a film for you.” Camus, Cineoutsider

The message that Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo drives home is about the importance of team work. We’re now beginning to be told the stories behind these triumphs and tragedies, and the background is fascinating. Using rare footage and audio clips, Fairhead manages to turn their tales into a suspenseful drama. Even though the outcomes are history, you find yourself on the edge of your seat.” Rob Aldam, Backseat Mafia

You can feel the pull of contemporary sensitivities in Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo, when director David Fairhead sets up his lionization of Mission Control’s buzz-cut, mostly white pioneers with an intro by two of the young women who do their jobs today. It isn’t Fairhead’s fault that the NASA experts with a direct line to Buzz Aldrin et al were all dudes. Now, while a surprise Hollywood hit exposes the role of African-American “hidden figures” in the quest for space, Fairhead’s straight-arrow documentary ensures that the better-known participants get more time in the spotlight while they can still tell their own tales…

But it took a disaster to ensure that they never took their role for granted. We hear how they witnessed the Apollo 1 fire in horror from their desks and were deeply shamed by the belief they hadn’t done their jobs well. “I think that we killed those three men. It was almost murder,” one says. After a soul-searching analysis of what went wrong, flight director Gene Kranz (immortalized by Ed Harris in Apollo 13) declared, “From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: ‘Tough’ and ‘Competent.'”

That seriousness endured, and the doc heats up slightly as it recounts how Apollo got back on track. Jim Lovell is one of the few astronauts to appear here, a good-humored hero sharing the spotlight with those he relied on. But Kranz and Chris Kraft, director of flight operations, are the stars — the latter, a dispenser of plainspoken truths like “These things may not seem complicated, but they were complicated as Hell back then.”

Apollo 11 predictably gets the biggest chunk of screen time, with an enjoyably tense story about how engineers thought the lunar lander would run out of fuel. Technical difficulties on mission 12 are not as easy for Fairhead to explain to the non-geeks in the audience.

Back in the present, we meet flight director Courtenay McMillan, who clearly respects the seriousness of her predecessors while retaining the excitement of a kid who grew up knowing this was a job people got to do. Whether the U.S. will ever care as much about exploring space as it once did is, of course, another matter.” John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter