Al Reinhert was a writer for Texas Monthly who frequently covered the NASA space program. It was there he discovered a wealth of footage the space program had taken (of both the testing and actual launches) throughout the sixties and seventies that had never been seen by the public. This struck him as an absurdity. The space program was, after all, the most ambitious scientific endeavor the human race had ever staged.
Reinert was also struck by another thought: that he wanted to see these images on a really, really big screen.
Thus, 'For All Mankind' was born, comprised entirely of found footage that Reinert dug up in the NASA archives. It remains a one-of-a-kind documentary - a kind of abstract expression of wild, headlong scientific discovery.
Instead of your typical talking-head documentary, Reinert instead just recorded audio of various important people who played vital roles within the space program. He then played this audio over a selection of sequences from the archives. No identification is provided. It must have seemed way ahead of its time in 1989. It still feels pretty cutting edge watching it today.
Most of the time you're floored by the images alone that are captured in 'For All Mankind,' but if you stop to listen, the narration gives an amazing amount of context to what is going on. For those of us who were not alive, this kind of breathless ambition, this adventurous discovery, must have just been beyond reproach. (The political maneuvering involved and the scary Cold War implications notwithstanding.)
That thrill is mirrored here with the filmmaking ambition Reinert shows. It's both practical and inventive, the way he put this thing together, and for those who got to see it on the big screen, it must have been a sight to behold. For those who haven't seen it, it really is amazing, and at only 80 minutes long, packs a wallop most films double that length can't muster.
This summer saw the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission that put man on the moon, and as a commemorative celebration of that monumental achievement, 'For All Mankind' is perfect.
Reinert, incidentally, went on to script Ron Howard's dramatic retelling of the Apollo 13 disaster (called, of course, 'Apollo 13') as well as two episodes of Tom Hanks' aerospace miniseries 'From the Earth to the Moon.'
The MPEG-4 AVC 1080p presentation ("pictureboxed" at 1.33:1) on this 50GB dual-layer disc is pretty outstanding.
There's been some guff online about how this reissue of 'For All Mankind' is actually at a lower resolution than the previous DVD, with more "pictureboxing" in place (squaring off the sides to make it 1.33:1). I don't remember the original DVD well enough to tell you the differences, but I find it hard to believe that 'For All Mankind' has ever looked this good.
Reinert oversaw and approved this new transfer, which has been fully restored. Considering most of the footage Reinert dug up for this documentary was archival footage in 16mm, I was shocked to see how great things looked.
According to the little booklet that comes with the disc, "Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were removed manually." Yowza!
Sure, there is some wonkiness when the film takes on a kind of proto-video look, but overall, things are sharp, clear, and crisp, with a sumptuous level of fine detail. This isn't some gorgeous, Erol Morris documentary where every frame is amazing-looking. This was cobbled together from technical footage which was trying to pinpoint a specific problem or why some piece of machinery did or didn't work. That said, some of the images here are absolutely breathtaking. This is a great transfer for a great film.
It should be noted this disc is Region "A" locked.
Again, let me quote from the booklet, this time about the disc's English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, "The original 5.1 track was remastered at 23-bit from 35 mm magnetic tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were removed manually using Pro Tools HD. Crack was attenuated using Audio Cube's integrated audio work station."
Well, I must say, all that work paid off because this disc also sounds like a million bucks. Everything is crisp and clear, with Brian Eno's delicate score sounding outstanding as well. Things are well prioritized and balanced. Overall, outstanding.
While that is the only audio option, there are subtitles in English, as well as a neat subtitle feature that I would consider more a 'special feature' than anything else - a track which identifies the speaker, that pops up along the bottom of the screen. This can sometimes get confusing, as you don't know if the title is identifying the person speaking or the person on screen (because often they are not the same person), but this is still a nifty option.
Beyond the improvements on video and audio, the thing people are most interested when it comes to Criterion discs are the extras. A wonderful array of features has been assembled for this release. Also, it's nice to note that this release is housed in a plastic Blu-ray case, slightly thicker than most, but far from the cumbersome paper sleeves that most Criterion Blu-rays are housed in. (I thought they had given up on this altogether but there sits my 'Last Year at Marienbad,' in its delicate paper sleeve.)
Also included in this release are highly readable essays by film critic Terrence Rafferty and Al Reinert himself.
Well, Criterion has done it again. I don't think anyone out there was clamoring for a new version of Al Reinert's 'For All Mankind,' but now that we have it, I don't think anyone would disagree with how essential it truly is. A landmark documentary, lovingly restored to optimal picture and sound, along with a wonderful collection of fascinating special features, makes this one highly recommended, for any space nut or documentary fan out there. This disc is truly out of this world.