“Museum of Science & Industry Marks 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11 with Documentary,” by S.M. O’Connor


Last December, the Museum of Science and Industry (M.S.I.) celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission and now M.S.I. is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission – the first that enabled men to walk on the Moon – by screening Apollo 11: First Steps Edition in Chicago’s only five-story cinema.  The movie debuted at the M.S.I.’s Giant Dome Theater (formerly the OMNIMAX Theater) in the Henry Crown Space Center on Friday, May 24, 2019.

Produced by Statement Pictures, in partnership with C.N.N. Films, the film makes audiences feel like they are front and center during N.A.S.A.’s historic lunar landing.  It captures the perspectives of the astronauts, the Mission Control team, and millions of spectators.  The film is specially made to be screened playing at IMAX® and other giant screen theaters at science museums, science centers, and planetariums around the world.[1]   Apollo 11: First Steps Edition is being screened in Canada, Australia, the U.K., Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and Japan, as well as twenty-six American states and Washington, D.C.  Sponsored by Land Rover, the film is forty-seven minutes long.

Director Todd Douglas Miller and his team made the documentary entirely from archival materials.  They worked closely with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (N.A.S.A.) and the National Archives and Records Administration (N.A.R.A.) to gather all existing footage of the Apollo 11 mission.  Miller is best known for a documentary that is (or should be) of much interest to Chicagoans: Dinosaur 13 (2014), the documentary about SUE the Tyrannosaurus rex at The Field Museum of Natural History.

N.A.R.A. staff members made the fortuitous discovery of unprocessed collection of 70mm large-format footage that had never been seen by the public before that contained awesome shots of the launch, Mission Control, recovery, and post-mission activities.  “It had been processed, archived, and forgotten,” Miller explained.

“The discovery added another dimension to the project,” Miller argued. “It was more than just a film now. It was an opportunity to curate and preserve this priceless historical material.”

The filmmakers state in the Production Notes, “In addition to the new large-format footage, the archives contained 16mm and 35mm materials, some captured by the astronauts themselves. All of this film stock had to be digitized. Final Frame, a post-production house in New York City, helped create a prototype custom scanner for the job. The scanner was capable of high-dynamic-range scanning at resolutions up to 8K. The resulting transfer—from which the film was cut—is the highest resolution, highest-quality digital collection of Apollo 11 footage in existence.”

Producer Thomas Petersen expounded, “The 65mm and 70mm footage was perfectly preserved in cold storage at NARA and is remarkably pristine. Some of the interior shots (inside Mission Operations Control Room) were dark and shot at a lower frame rate, so we did some work to brighten where we could and do some time remapping. Many of the 16mm reels had been circulated a lot in the last 50 years, so there was some digital restoration needed on those. The end product is rich and vibrant. We’ve had viewers remark at how immediate the experience.”

Much of the footage has never been seen by the public before and some of it may never have been seen by anyone before Miller and his team processed it.  Milled explicated, “The majority of the footage is new—there were hundreds of reels that were marked ‘Apollo 11,’ or with the date of the launch, but none of the archivists even knew what was on them. In some cases, iconic images from the mission were familiar to us—but we had only ever seen them in 35mm. In all cases, after scanning the material, we were able to see the Apollo 11 mission in a brand-new way. I remember watching some of the brand-new 5 material as it was going through the scanner—aerial footage shot from a helicopter of the Saturn V on the crawler, going out to the pad. Standing there, seeing this footage for the first time, was like a religious experience. We were floored, speechless.”

Vanity Fair’s David Kamp noted, ‘It was like a family discovering a shoebox full of Super 8 of major life events and departed friends – only the family was America, the movies were of theater quality, the event was one of the most important accomplishments in human history, and the departed friend was Neil Armstrong.”

As if the discovery of the film was not enough good fortune, the filmmakers also gained access to a cache of 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio recordings that captured individual tracks from sixty key personnel from the Apollo 11 mission, such as Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) and Buzz Aldrin.  These audio recordings were previously known only to historians and N.A.S.A. experts.

In the Production Notes, the filmmakers stated, “Apollo 11: First Steps Edition team members created code to restore the audio and make it searchable. It took years for the filmmakers to listen to and catalogue the recordings, an effort that yielded remarkable new insights into key events of the mission. Perhaps even more revealing are the glimpses into the human experience of the entire Apollo team. The audience hears their humor and camaraderie, and shares their tension and elation as the mission unfolds.”

“The Apollo 11 mission was humanity’s greatest adventure and we’re pleased to be bringing this edition to science centers and museums everywhere,” stated Mr. Miller director. “This film was designed to take full advantage of the immersive quality of IMAX and giant screen theaters.”

“We aimed to honor the original Apollo 11 mission by creating a film event that would capture the spectacle of this most extraordinary of human achievements,” stated Courtney Sexton, Vice President of CNN Films.  “Todd’s ambitious Apollo 11: First Steps Edition will thrill museum-goers with an incredible, unprecedented experience.”

Ms. Sexton and Amy Entelis, Executive Vice President for Talent and Content Development for CNN Worldwide, are both Executive Producers of the film.  Further, Ms. Sexton was Supervising Producer of Dinosaur 13 and Life Itself (2014), the documentary about the Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert (1942-2013).

“With the incredible find of so much pristine, never-before-seen footage and new audio recordings, our project evolved beyond filmmaking into one of film curation and historic preservation,” stated Mr. Petersen. “This new material yielded remarkable new insights into key events of the mission.”

“When Apollo 11: First Steps Edition opens in museums and science centers around the globe starting May 17, it will be the centerpiece of a vast series of celebratory programs and activities leading up to the 50th anniversary of this historic event,” stated Shaun MacGillivray, President of MacGillivray Freeman Films, which is distributing the film. “We cannot wait to see audiences experience the thrill of walking on the Moon with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and becoming a part of history as the world celebrates this greatest of human accomplishments.”

Statement Pictures, L.L.C. formed in 2011 in Brooklyn to produce independent feature-length motion picture films and visual content.  Filmmakers Todd Douglas Miller and Thomas Petersen are the owners. The company’s first feature film, Dinosaur 13, premiered on opening night at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and was acquired by Lionsgate and CNN Films.

C.N.N. Films produces and acquires documentary feature films and short films for theatrical release and festival exhibition, as well as distribution across C.N.N.’s multiple platforms. The aforementioned Amy Entelis, Executive V.P. of Talent and Content Development, oversees the strategy for C.N.N. Films, while Courtney Sexton, V.P. for C.N.N. Films, works day-to-day with filmmakers to oversee projects. One can follow C.N.N. Films on Twitter @CNNFilms. C.N.N. Films previously collaborated with Todd Douglas Miller for its presentation of Dinosaur 13.

Based in Laguna Beach, California, MacGillivray Freeman Films describes itself in a press release as “the world’s foremost independent producer and distributor of giant-screen 70mm films with more than 40 films for IMAX and giant-screen theatres to its credit. Throughout the company’s 50-year history, its films have won numerous international awards including two Academy Award® nominations for The Living Sea and Dolphins and three films inducted into the IMAX Hall of Fame, including Everest, the highest grossing giant screen film of all time. MacGillivray Freeman’s films are known for their artistry and celebration of science and the natural world. It is the first documentary film company to reach the one-billion-dollar benchmark for worldwide box office.”


Credit: MacGillivray Freeman Caption: This is a trailer for Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11: First Steps Edition, which is now playing at IMAX® and other giant screen theaters at science museums, science centers, and planetariums around the world.

On October 23, 2018, MacGillivray Freeman Films announced it had “acquired the giant screen institutional distribution rights” to the documentary which had the working title Apollo 11: First Steps.  “We are so excited to bring this exceptional project to institutional giant screen theatres and to share this extraordinary moment in time with audiences,” stated Patty Collins, Director of Global Sales at MacGillivray Freeman Films. “What could be more perfect for the giant screen than man’s first steps on the moon?”

“MacGillivray Freeman have been the ‘gold standard’ in large-format film for a very long time and we’re really excited to be working with them on this amazing project. We can’t think of a better partner to bring this remarkable discovery of 65mm footage to the giant screen,” stated Miller.

A feature-length, ninety-three-minute-long version of the film, Apollo 11 (2019) had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 24, 2019.  Neon (stylized NEON), a privately-held film production and distribution company founded in 2017, gained the right to distribute it domestically and Universal Pictures gained the right to distribute it overseas.[2]

“Miller’s film is a stunning achievement in filmmaking,” stated Megan Colligan, President of IMAX Entertainment, according to Variety’s Rebecca Rubin.  “The film is immersive, crisp, and clear.  Audiences can palpably feel the tension, immense pride and overwhelming joy of the team that came together to make the impossible possible.”

It debuted on March 1, 2019.  For one week, it was screened exclusively in IMAX® theaters. Then, on March 8, 2019, it went into wide release. Apollo 11 grossed $1,607,040 its opening weekend.  Thus far, it has grossed $8,934,145 at the domestic box office, according to Box Office Mojo.    After a premiere at Sundance Film Festival: London 2019, Universal Pictures and Dogwoof released it in the U.K. on June 28, 2019.  Overseas, it grossed an additional $1,077,444, which brings the total to $10,018,860, according to The Numbers®.  Universal Studios Pictures Entertainment released it simultaneously on digital download, D.V.D., and Blu-ray with a resolution of 1080p in the U.S.A. on May 14, 2019.  The D.V.D. and Blu-ray special features include a trailer and a three-minute-long featurette entitled Apollo 11: Discovering the 65mm.  NEON announced this month it would re-release the film to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission.  CNN Films retains television rights to both versions of the documentary feature.

To make Apollo 11: First Steps Edition for science museums and science centers, Miller had to shorten a feature-length film and edit it in other ways.  He related, “I’ve always been a fan of museums and science centers. From the beginning of this project, we were so excited at the prospect of making a version for this marketplace, because many of these theaters are in direct-line communication with NASA and NARA, our partners. So, when thinking about trimming the feature-length film, I was focused on telling the best story for the special enthusiasts who visit museums and science centers. My job was to ensure that the audiences who see the shorter version are getting a spectacular experience. We added a couple of unique shots to this special version, but mostly we thought about pacing and making sure that the 70mm footage was showcased. In addition, I wanted audiences to know that the same team who made the feature-length film also personally—by hand—created Apollo 11: First Steps Edition. I personally edited it, with this audience in mind. The museum and science center edition might be shorter, but it packs a giant punch.”

Apollo_04_Aldrin_walks_on_moon__2_Figure 1 Credit: MacGillivray Freeman Films Caption: Buzz Aldrin walks on the Moon from Apollo 11: First Steps Edition (2019).


Figure 2 Credit: MacGillivray Freeman Films Caption: This is a still picture of Mission Control from Apollo 11: First Steps Edition (2019).

Apollo_16_Saturn_V_rocket_launchFigure 3 Credit: MacGillivray Freeman Films Caption: This is a still picture of the launch of the Saturn V rocket from Apollo 11: First Steps Edition (2019).


The Museum of Science and Industry’s Giant Dome Theater has a state-of-the-art laser projection system.  In May of 2017, the M.S.I. unveiled a state-of-the-art projection system in the Omnimax® Theater, which it renamed the Giant Dome Theater to emphasize the change in projection technology.  The M.S.I. is the first institution in Chicago and the second in the world to install the new system from D3D/Christie Laser Dome, a company based in north suburban Evanston, Illinois.  It uses three different laser projectors to create a composite image.

Through Thursday, February 27, 2020, Apollo 11: First Steps Edition is being screened daily at 10:30 a.m., 12:00 p.m., and 3:00 p.m., with an additional 4:30 p.m. screening on days with extended hours.  The Giant Dome Theater is not included in Museum Entry (general admission) and requires an additional, timed-entry ticket.  Film tickets are available in Explorer ticket packages.

In a press release, the M.S.I. stated, “After seeing the film, discover decades of technology that took us to the Moon inside the Henry Crown Space Center.  Control a camera to get a look inside the lunar module used for Apollo 11 training, and then get close to the real Apollo 8 module, the first manned spacecraft to orbit the Moon and return.  The Space Center also showcases the Aurora 7 capsule flown by Scott Carpenter as part of the Project Mercury space program, the first manned space program of the United States.”

Currently, the M.S.I.’s Giant Dome Theater is also screening Hidden Pacific (2019) and Tornado Alley.  Please note that Tornado Alley is being screened through July 31st.  The Dover Foundation is the sponsor of the Giant Dome Theater.  CIBC is the Season Sponsor.

Often stylized as the “Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago” or the “Museum of Science + Industry” the institution is located at the northern end of the Chicago Park District’s Jackson Park, on the south side of 57th Street, between Lake Shore Drive to the east and Cornell Drive to the west, in the East Hyde Park neighborhood of the Hyde Park Community Area (Community Area #41) on the South Side of Chicago.

Normally, the M.S.I. is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  However, the M.S.I. is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day in July, except on Thursday, July 18, 2019, when it will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. From Thursday, August 1, 2019 to Saturday, August 17, 2019, and on Saturday, August 31, 2019, it will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; and from the 18th to the 30th of August, it will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  On Sunday, September 1, 2019 and Monday, September 2, 2019, it will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.  Otherwise, in September, it will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., except on Saturday, September 29, 2019, when it will be open from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Throughout the whole of October, it will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., except on Saturday, October 5, 2019, when it will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

The address is 5700 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60637.  The Website is https://www.msichicago.org/ and the phone number is (773) 684-1414.


[1] IMAX® is a registered trademark of the IMAX Corporation.

[2] Universal Studios produced and/or released Apollo 13 (1995) and First Man (2018).  Apollo 13 was a Ron Howard film about the disastrous Apollo 13 mission.  It was an adaptation of Lost Moon by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger and starred Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell, Kevin Bacon as Jack Swigert (1931-1982), and Bill Paxton (1955-2017) as Fred Haise, Gary Sinese as Ken Mattingly, and Ed Harris as Flight Director Gene Kranz.  First Man is a biopic, an adaptation of James R. Hansen’s book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong.  It starred Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, English actress Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong, Australian actor Jason Clarke as Ed White (1930-1967), Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin, and Canadian-born American actor Pablo Schreiber as Jim Lovell, and actor-musician Luke Hass as Michael Collins.






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