March 30, 2022

Travel Back to the ’60s in Linklater’s Magical “Apollo 10½” (Review)

I wasn’t alive during the moon landing, but sometimes I wish I had been. To be a part of history, even in an observatory fashion, must have been remarkable — but let’s be honest: what kid wouldn’t have wanted to do even more?

Enter Stanley, played by Milo Coy, the protagonist of Richard Linklater’s new film Apollo 10½. At the very start, Stanley is lifted from the playground and recruited directly by the United States government for a top-secret mission. They’ve accidentally built the initial lunar module too small, and they need someone to take it to the moon as a test run for the upcoming Apollo 11 launch.

“Everyone was doing something for NASA, one way or another.”
Image courtesy of Netflix

But that’s not what Apollo 10½ is really about. Through Stanley and his family, we get a powerful sense of the culture in the late 1960s. The Space Race was going strong, hatred and fear were high for the Soviet Union, and there was a hopeful change in the social consciousness brewing that indicated everything would be shifting sooner rather than later. This is how my father grew up, and based on what I know, I believe this is the best representation of the time period that’s ever been put to screen. It makes perfect sense that it’s partially based on Linklater’s own upbringing, seeing as he would have been eight years old at the time of the moon landing.

It is (or, at least, was) every kid’s fantasy, and Apollo 10½ knows it. The film blends the line between history and fiction, emphasizing the truths of being a child of the 60s, combined with the wonders and mysticism of the endless limits of imagination. Apollo 10½ honors history while harmlessly altering it, throwing in a brand-new factor that, even if it wasn’t fantastical, would barely impact what really happened. In his own head, Stanley is an unknown and unappreciated part of history, and he’s totally fine with that.

“For a kid, it was confusing — adults were always guilt-tripping us.”

Jack Black voices Stanley’s older self, narrating the events of the 1960s and explaining everything that he realizes now while looking back on his childhood. In this way, Apollo 10½ is both a retrospective and a reminiscence, as Stanley’s boyhood is strongly indicative of the youth culture at the time — he’s not one kid, he’s the dreams and experiences of an entire generation.

Image courtesy of Netflix

The film feels incredibly unique, and I believe a lot of that is owed to the animation style. Linklater filmed many of the characters and the objects they interact with in live action, and then combined them with animated locations and fleshed out the world around them with rotoscoping techniques. The characters still manage to be remarkably expressive (sensible, considering they’re initially played in live-action), in a manner reminiscent to Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly, or the more recent Flee. I’ve never seen an animated film quite like this one, and I’m holding out hope it gets represented at next year’s Academy Awards.

Apollo 10½ put a big smile on my face. It’s an effortlessly charming little masterpiece with a fantastic (and period-accurate) soundtrack, fascinating historical tangents, and a brilliant script that we absolutely expect from Linklater by now. It’s relentless in its homey depiction of the 1960s, and while not everything’s perfect in the world, this kinetic portrait of the decade is one I wouldn’t mind living in.

Image courtesy of Netflix

Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood is streaming April 1 on Netflix.

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