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The Last Man on the Moon - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Last Man on the Moon
Directing: B
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B

Twelve people have walked on the moon -- all men, all Americans, all of them between 1969 and 1972. How many have you heard of? The only true household names are the first two, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Unless you're a space travel enthusiast, an average person might think some of the other names ring a bell when looking at the full list, but that's about it. Well, Eugene Cernan has the distinction of being at the other end of that list -- thus making him the subject of the fascinating documentary The Last Man on the Moon.

Presumably the story of how any of those twelve guys made it to the moon would be as interesting. This one just happens to be Cernan's story. It's kind of odd there's not more about astronaut Harrison Schmitt, who was on the same mission, and left the moon only moments before Cernan did. But maybe this movie's producers just liked Cretan's particular swagger, which he has to spare. One might expect it of just about anyone who's made it to the moon, though. It's quite the exclusive club. Twelve people. It makes you wonder why there hasn't been any more since 1972. Other priorities came to the fore, I guess. Also, it's an insanely dangerous endeavor. People have died. The list of astronaut fatalities far exceeds the list of people who have made it to the moon.

And Eugene Cernan, a charismatic and handsome man even past the age of eighty, was the last one. He's a hero, a celebrity of a unique type, and it's easy to see how that happens.

There are some moments in The Last Man on the Moon that are a little disappointingly contrived, like watching a reality TV show. It's more subtle than that, but still noticeable. The film opens on Cernan attending a rodeo in Houston, and the camera focuses on him in the audience, reacting to bull riders falling to the ground. And we are meant to infer that it reminds him of space program training, as the movie cuts from the bucking bull to the mechanical contraption that twirls would-be astronauts all over the place.

There is something else that makes Cernan even more special, though. He's one of only three astronauts to travel to the moon twice. His first mission was Apollo 10, and it served to inform the Apollo 11 mission manned by Aldrin and Armstrong. Between this and the Apollo 17 mission during which he actually walked on the moon in 1972, we are treated to a great deal of rare and fantastic footage. News anchors interviewing his daughter, who says her dad told her that if he couldn't bring her back a moon rock, he'd bring her back a moon beam. Cernan traced her initials in the lunar surface and presumably they are still there.

His daughter gives present-day interviews that indicate how her appreciation of what her dad accomplished has deepened with time. His first wife eventually divorced him, but we get lots of great information from her about what it was like to be at home with a husband going into space multiple times. We briefly meet his current wife. They argue about whether they've been married 24 or 25 years. We don't see as much of her because she isn't as relevant a part of the story confined to the late sixties and early seventies.

Too many of Cernan's filmed conversations with family members and friends feel staged. This film works best when the people involved talk to director Mark Craig directly about their memories and experiences. This is just as engaging as the vintage footage. It's difficult to imagine what an incredible experience someone like Cernan had, and at great price -- both to astronauts that preceded him and to his family. Cernan expresses regret that he neglected them, but, like the other astronauts, it was the only way to their achievements. Maybe NASA should start recruiting more single people.

In spite of a few flaws in the telling, it's practically impossible to lob any criticisms of consequence at this documentary. How could a story like this not be fascinating? It's literally otherworldly. Someone should make a movie like this about more of these guys.

Gene Cernan is in the unique position of having been THE LAST MAN ON THE MOON.

Overall: B+
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