The Last Man on the Moon

Director: Mark Craig / Producers: Gareth Dodds, Mark Stewart, Patrick Marks, Sarah Giles. 92 mins

In 1972 Apollo 17 astronaut Captain Eugene Cernan became the last man on the moon.

Cernan’s story is told by director Mark Craig in Last Man on the Moon, a documentary screening at this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest. Craig shows the Apollo astronauts – now in their 80s – recalling an era when America had a presidential mandate to be daring, a license to venture into the unknown…

The film depicts the glamour of the Apollo astronaut’s lifestyle. It shows crowds of people cheering the heroism of these new pioneers. The knights of the sky who conquered space. At the same time Last Man on the Moon shows us the effect on the astronaut’s families. One scene shows Gene sitting with his grown-up daughter on a bench outside his ranch. “I remember when I came back, you said: ‘You’ve been to the moon, NOW will you take me camping?”, he says. Today Cernan admits that the astronauts’ competitiveness, their drive to be the best, came at a personal cost.

“I cheated my family and friends out of a big chunk of my life,” he says. “Particularly my daughter when she was growing up. I – like a lot of my colleagues – was so focused on the challenge that was placed in front of me. Our families suffered because of our selfishness.”

Last Man on the Moon deals in nostalgia for space exploration, for the America of the time, and even – whether Cernan likes it or not – for brave people that we can idealise. All of these have become twisted in the years since the space race, but Cernan believes we can – and will – recapture that sense of romanticism.

“The press have labelled me The Last Man to Walk on the Moon. I’d like to think of it as the last man of Apollo to walk on the moon. We’re going to go back again.” “Henry Barnes, The Guardian

“In the tradition of all good movies about space travel, Mark Craig’s The Last Man on the Moon carries big ideas. Both the film and Cernan ask what has driven mankind to travel beyond our own planet. Family and God are a big driving force in Cernan’s life today, but these things – like most other things in his life – were once sacrificed in favour of Cernan’s single-minded determination to expand his own understanding of existence…

The film, then, humanizes as well as lionizes, presenting us with the reality while also allowing us to feel the poetry of Cernan’s tale. And as well as Craig charts Cernan’s story (and the story of the US space programme, from Kennedy’s administration to Nixon’s) on Earth via some quality archive footage, the impressive collaboration of visual effects, animation and archive – used most prominently to depict the various journeys of the spacecraft – is where the director stylistically excels. Craig seamlessly fills the blanks left by the limited archive footage, offering a rare sense of that trip.

Still, there is arguably nothing better on-screen here than the subject up-close giving us his own personal history lesson… an elegy for a time when humankind still appeared determined to achieve impossible goals. Flashbacks to the space programme’s 60s heyday feels like a glance at a time of unparalleled hope long since lost… A biopic of a worthy subject as well as an affectionate look back upon a lost era, The Last Man on the Moon is a compelling, elegiac documentary about the life of an ordinary astronaut.” Brogan Morris, We Got This Covered

“The film also features clever patterns that imply Cernan’s introspective side: At a few points, editors David Fairhead and Dan Haythorn intercut archival footage with shots of Cernan walking around by himself or sitting on a couch and staring up at the ceiling, the juxtaposition suggesting a sense of mental recall on Cernan’s part without him saying a word. Craig even gets away with one cutesy bit of Catch Me If You Can-style animation, connecting it to an impression Cernan articulates during the sequence of his initial encounter with and eventual training regimen at NASA as being akin to a spy movie.

When The Last Man on the Moon ends with Cernan voicing his own takeaway from his experiences—“I walked on the moon. What can’t you do?”—the moment for once feels less like an inspirational platitude than one of hard-won wisdom.” Kenji Fujishama, Paste Magazine

“In Mark Craig’s beautiful and breathtaking and stirring documentary “The Last Man on the Moon,” the 81-year-old Cernan comes across as an articulate, thoughtful, even philosophical man of pure courage, warm humor, strong emotions and more than a touch of vulnerability. Through extensive interviews with Cernan and other key players in the Apollo program, archival footage, visually impressive re-enactments and treasured home video footage and still photos, “The Last Man on the Moon” is a memorable portrait of a genuine American Space Cowboy.

He also spoke with poetic grace just before his walk on the moon would come to an end, saying in part: “As I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come … I’d like to say … America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And as we leave the Moon … we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return with peace and hope for all mankind.”

This is a great documentary about a great man.” Richard Roeper Chicago Sun-Times

“Conveyed in first person through the razor-sharp recollections of the now 81-year-old Texas rancher, the film traces Cernan’s career trajectory, going back to his days in San Diego as a hot-shot naval aviator, blending terrific archival footage with contemporary perspectives to quietly poetic effect.

Despite the inherent nostalgic undercurrent, Craig’s film reveals that bragging rights came with a price — though Cernan would scratch his daughter’s initials into the lunar dust, the same drive and determination that helped get him there would affect his ability to be an attentive father and husband back on planet Earth, as noted by his ex-wife Barbara.
With those stirring images set against Cernan’s articulate, often wistful observations and backed by a score that’s more elegiac than patriotic, “The Last Man on the Moon” rewardingly goes beyond simply identifying the man and his ultimate mission.” Michael Rechtshaffen LA Times

“One of the most interesting things about Cernan is that, despite his stern, unflappable aura, he was not immune to the temptations of ego. He loved being a big shot. He loved — apparently still loves — attention. Such impulses do not make for happy, long-term marriages, but they’re good for a documentary.

The Apollo program had two flights that have gone into legend: Apollo 11, because it landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon’s surface, and Apollo 13, because things went really wrong. Cernan was on two of the relatively forgotten Apollo missions, and “Last Man on the Moon” is a chance to hear about them. It’s also a chance to imagine what it must be like to be in Cernan’s head as he looks back on his life. People always try to tell you about their travels, and no one ever wants to listen, but you’ll listen to Cernan. He’s been places.” Mick LaSalle San Francisco Chronicle

“The greatest thing about Last Man on the Moon is its potential for reviving the dreamer in all of us. Skeptics scoff that the current NASA projects – the Mars orbiter, etc. – are literally light-years beyond our ability to wrap them into our country’s agenda. Great movies inspire great dreams. Give this one a peek, and be prepared to be wowed.” David Lamble, The Bay Area Reporter

“The Last Man on the Moon is an engrossing piece of documentary filmmaking full of beauty and grit. [The film] comes to life through its beautiful contrasts: between animation and film; home and the moon; family and work; comfort and danger; the explosion required to get into space and the unsettling quiet once a space craft gets there. And the film includes life and death, notably in a wrenching interview with Martha Chaffee, widow of Roger Chaffee, who died with astronauts Gus Grissom and Edward White in a 1967 capsule fire. Chaffee cries in the interview, and Craig and his cameraman shot it through their own tears.

Though a documentary, the film’s pacing resembles a taut drama.”  Andrew Dansby, The Houston Chronicle