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In the Shadow of the Moon

Discovery • In theaters Sept. 7

Discovery Communications is headed to the moon and the theaters with a new documentary, In the Shadow of the Moon. The documentary covers NASA’s attempts to reach the moon through archival footage and the words of the astronauts who participated.

Discovery CEO David Zaslav said at the film’s New York premiere that when he took the reins at the company nine months ago, he was seeking ways to extend the brand across platforms. Clark Bunting, president of Discovery Studios, told Zaslav that one platform the company should seriously consider was theatrical films. Their search for a project worthy of the Discovery imprimatur turned up the documentary about NASA’s Apollo program. Discovery worked in conjunction with ThinkFilm on the project. Ron Howard (Apollo 13, From Earth to the Moon) lent his name to the effort.

The archival footage is stunning — much of it shot by the astronauts on Earth and in space — and really puts viewers in the time and place. Rather than a voiceover from a narrator, nine of the 27 Apollo astronauts tell the story in their own words, giving the movie an authenticity that can only be provided by the men that have been there.

Astronauts Michael Collins (Apollo 11) and Gene Cernan (Apollo 10, 13) get much of the screen time. They are joined by arguably the world’s most prominent astronaut, Buzz Aldrin (the second man to walk on the moon and the first to relieve himself there, as he tells in the movie), as well as Alan Bean, Jim Lovell, Edgar Mitchell, Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, Dave Scott and John Young.

The movie is strong throughout, with the astronauts imparting a bit of the philosophical and spiritual views that were shaped by their voyages. The film does take an ecological turn at the end that to cynical minds may seem like bandwagon-jumping in an era when almost everybody is “going green” — including Discovery, which will debut its Planet Green channel next winter.

In the Shadow of the Moon opened in theaters in New York and Los Angeles Friday, Sept. 7, and will debut on Discovery Channel in 2008. The network also announced that it signed a media deal with NASA to celebrate the space agency’s 50th anniversary.

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