Criterion’s Blu-ray version of Al Reinert’s For All Mankind presents the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc. The image is presented in 1080p. While the DVD and Blu-ray technically come from the same high-def transfer (with the DVD severely downscaled of course) the image here has not been window-boxed like it has been for the DVD.
As I’ve mentioned before most Criterion Blu-rays and DVDs on a first glance can look fairly similar (which I see more as a compliment for their DVD transfers) but with For All Mankind I felt there was a very clear, distinct difference that is most obvious in the film grain. While the DVD’s transfer improved on the film grain when compared to the original DVD (which did have a more compressed, pixilated look) the Blu-ray’s film grain looks far more natural and the image in turn is much smoother and crisper. Detail is surprisingly high throughout, though it depends on the source materials (the film is made up of blown up 16mm footage taken from the moon missions, which vary in quality, though for the most part are in surprisingly great shape.) The surface of the moon presents far more definition in a few sequences and the footage of ground control is sharper and smoother.
Colours look the same, which are surprisingly bright and bold, black levels are nice and both are best displayed together during shots of the Earth in the black void of space. The print condition looks to be the same between the DVD and Blu-ray, though I was surprised some imperfections are actually more noticeable in the Blu-ray edition (and I should point out this isn’t meant as a criticism against the transfer.) The original DVD had plenty of marks and scratches but a majority of that has been removed here with the more troublesome issues inherent in the original footage gathered for this film.
When I first heard that one of Criterion’s first Blu-ray titles would be For All Mankind I admit I did sort of question it but any doubts I had are gone: It looks fantastic and the film really suits the format.
(Screen grabs below have been provided by DVD Beaver. Grabs have been downscaled somewhat but should provide an idea of the image quality.) 8/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
The Blu-ray edition replicates the features found on the new DVD re-issue (though one feature's presenation does differ slightly), which ported most of the features from the original DVD release and added a couple of new ones.
First is the audio commentary by director Al Reinert and Apollo 17 commander Eugene A. Cernan, dubbed the last man to step on the moon. The commentary is the exact same one recorded for the both DVD releases. The film is only 80-minutes long so it’s a very brief track but no less interesting. The two have been thankfully recorded together and give each other an equal amount of time. Reinert comments mostly on why he made the film (to put the NASA footage taken from the missions on the big screen), putting the film together, which includes the long process of gathering footage and cutting it together, the decision on editing footage from multiple missions together to make it feel like one mission with an “anonymous three man crew.” He also covers the process of blowing up 16mm film and getting around some of the inherent problems in the footage he was dealing with.
Cernan on the other hand talks specifically about the missions, his in particular, and also serves to put the film in context, also pointing out on occasion what mission certain clips are from, or even pointing out some of his fellow astronauts. He gets into the spiritual aspects of flying to the moon and shares his fond memories. Altogether the two provide a quick moving, informative track.
All other features are found under “Supplements” on the pop up menu.
New to this Blu-ray and the DVD re-issue is the making-of documentary An Accidental Gift: The Making of For All Mankind. Here it is presented in high definition and is widescreen. It expands further on Reinert’s contributions to the commentary that got into putting the film together. I had an idea as to how difficult this film would have been to put together but this documentary really gets into what a job it was. Reinert talks about going into NASA for a period of years and going through all of the footage and picking out material to be used for the film. He also went to the originals to get the scenes he wanted for the film, which in itself was also a process since the film is actually frozen (in a nice bit we actually get a small tour of the vaults) which meant it needed to be thawed to be used. We get interviews with some of NASA’s film archivists/editors including Dan Pickard, Check Welch, Morris Williams, and Mike Gentry, who all cover how the actual footage was shot and then the process that goes into preserving it and what it’s used for. What gets pointed out a lot is that the footage was shot for scientific purposes or for engineering to review in case any issues arose but in the process they “accidentally” caught some wonderful, beautiful images which Reinert scooped up with glee for his film. It’s starts out like most Criterion making-ofs, with plenty of talking heads but it gets better presenting additional footage not used in the film and of course gives a tour of various points of NASA’s film vault. It’s an excellent documentary, maybe the best feature on here. It’s divided into 6 chapters.
Also new here for the Blu-ray and DVD re-issue is On Camera, which is a collection of Al Reinert’s favourite interviews with astronauts that were used in other films such as The Wonder of it All, The Other Side of the Moon, and Our Planet Earth. It is also presented in high-definition. It runs 20-minutes and presents interview bits with Charlie Duke, Al Worden, Neil Armstrong, Charles Conrad Jr., William Anders, James Lovell, Michael Collins, Stuart Roosa, Edwin Aldrin, Edgar Mitchell, Eugene Cernan, James Irwin, John Young, Frank Borman, and Rusty Schweickart. There’s a variety of opinions, experiences, and anecdotes shared throughout including spiritual experiences (expressed differently by each astronaut), feelings about the missions and the current state of space exploration, dealing with depression after the mission was over, the effects its had on their outlook on life, and even share some humourous stories. It’s an excellent piece put together by Reinert and makes up for the lack of interviews on the original DVD release.
Carried over for the most part from the original DVD is Paintings From the Moon, which presents 32 paintings by Al Bean, an astronaut turned artist who paints depictions from the moon missions. This feature is somewhat different from how it was presented on the original DVD. Again there is an introduction by Bean but where it was a 4-minute audio recording on the original DVD it’s now a 7-minute video piece recorded recently and is presented in high-definition. Again Bean goes over how he got into painting but he also gives a tour of his studio and even shows some of his techniques and how he uses actual “souvenirs” from his mission to the moon in his work.
The presentation here also differs from both DVD editions. The original DVD presented a chapter index of the paintings which you then had to select one by one to view. The DVD-reissue gave the option to “Play All” which displayed each painting with audio notes by Bean, or you could navigate through a gallery of the paintings and then click. The Blu-ray’s presentation is a little cooler. You have the option to “Play All” yet again but this time you can either click “Index” from the pop-up menu or click the “Up” arrow on your remote to display a gallery pop-up of all of the paintings. For each painting Bean gives audio notes explaining the piece and a title and date is displayed. In total its 38-minutes. Unfortunately not all paintings have made it over to this Blu-ray or the DVD re-issue, the original DVD presenting 32 paintings while these new editions only present 24 and some of the ones missing have been replaced with newer ones that Bean painted after that DVD release. For the paintings that did make it over the same audio description by Bean has been used and he has recorded new ones for the newer paintings. I’m not sure why Criterion couldn’t port over all of the paintings. I suspect maybe Bean had a say on what made it. This is disappointing but is thankfully the only area where the features weren’t completely moved over. I also still want to complement Criterion on their presentation of the gallery.
NASA Audio Highlights is another feature ported over from the original DVD and includes 21 recordings totaling about 7-minutes. Everything appears to be here and you get some of the more famous quotes including the classic “blast off”, “one giant step…”, and of course “Houston, we have a problem.” You can play all of the clips or select them one by one from the index. They play over a static image of the moon.
Also pulled over is 3, 2, 1…Blast off!, which is two and a half minutes of footage from 5 rocket launches. The presentation differs slightly from the original DVD, which brought each launch as its own chapter. Here, like the DVD re-issue, it’s one chapter divided by title screens.
And, like with the original DVD, there’s a subtitle option that identified astronauts and other members of NASA that appear on screen. This is accessed through the “Setup” screen or by using the “Subtitle” button on your remote. It’s a nice feature but I don’t recommend watching the movie the first time with them as they do sort of ruin the experience.
This release also comes with a nice 24-page booklet that is the same as the DVD re-issue’s (though shorter) and includes a nice essay on the film by Terrence Rafferty. And thankfully Reinert’s essay found in the insert of the original DVD is carried over where Reinert talks about the missions, footage, and his intentions for the film.
While not everything technically made it over most of it did and Criterion has included a couple of new features well worth looking through. The supplements are extensive and interesting, nicely covering the making of the film and further delving into the moon missions. 9/10