FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE YET TO SEE APOLLO 10 1/2, THIS IS A NON-SPOILER REVIEW.
Richard Linklater has one helluva filmography… from his crowd-pleasing comedies like “School of Rock”, to his coming-of-age tales “Boyhood” and “Dazed and Confused” all the way to some of the best romance movies ever made in the “Before Trilogy”… Linklater has created some of the most joyous pictures to ever hit our screens. When a new film of his comes out, it’s always something to celebrate. So, when I heard that he was returning to his animated rotoscoping that he used in “Waking Life” and “A Scanner Darkly”, but with a coming-of-age-spin… I couldn’t have been more excited. Luckily, despite a few issues I have with Apollo 10 ½, it did not let me down one bit.
WHAT IS ROTOSCOPING? AND DOES IT LOOK ANY GOOD?
Linklater’s own “Waking Life” is what introduced me to rotoscoping, which is a medium of animation where live-action scenes are painstakingly painted over to create a very trippy, avant-garde feel that is still rooted in realism. This technique is very rarely utilized to its fullest potential, the only other recent example I can think of is Amazon Prime’s “Undone”... but, Linklater is one of the biggest champions of rotoscoping, and honestly, it has never looked better, than in “Apollo 10 ½”. There’s Something about the technique that adds to the fantasy of the proceedings, every frame looks like a brushed-over glimpse into the perspective of a child. It’s beautiful work and I hope Linklater continues experimenting with this kind of animation in the future.
HOW’S THE PACE OF THE MOVIE?
Some people might find “Apollo 10 ½” too slow or meandering and I would understand those sentiments. It’s a bit of an odd film, to say the least, and audiences expecting a straightforward narrative will be sorely disappointed. There’s not much dialogue in the film, rather it is narrated by Jack Black, who plays an older version of our lead character Stanley, throughout the entire runtime. “Apollo 10 ½” is basically like you are sitting down and listening to an old friend tell you their life story… their fondest memories of childhood, and those little moments in their past that made them who they are today.
IS THIS LINKLATER’S MOST PERSONAL FILM TO DATE?
And in that way, this might be Richard Linklater’s most personal film to date, and one of the reasons I love it so much. There are so many minute observations and intricate details that you can take away from the movie, that you will be able to relate to, even if you weren’t alive in the late sixties during the Space race. This film is soaked in nostalgia, so very aware of all of the things that made this Era so exciting, frightening, and frustrating, all at the same time… Linklater is able to transport us so effortlessly into the 60s and through the lens of a kid, coming of age during it all.
Because of that, “Apollo 10 ½” is very much like Kenneth Branagh’s recent Oscar-winner “Belfast”, an extremely personal movie that takes place during a pivotal moment in history, seen through the eyes of the director as a child. And although I quite liked Branagh’s “Belfast”, I think Linklater’s version of this formula works even better.
HOW IS THE FANTASY ELEMENT OF APOLLO 10 1/2?
I will say that what didn’t work for me about “Apollo 10 ½” is this fantasy framework that Linklater has concocted. The director uses this to fabricate a story of how our lead character is recruited by NASA to take part in a secret mission to the moon, that he must not tell a soul about. And while it’s a cute idea and it does add some structure to the overall film, I think it was unneeded.
Just getting to hear this story of growing up in 60’s American Suburbia… experiencing the iconic film, television, and music of the time, the radical changes in society, the historical moments and movements… all of that was enough to make a winning picture, we didn’t need the excess fantasy. And as much as I think Jack Black’s narration is warm and wonderful, I would have liked a bit more dialogue between our characters to connect with them on an even deeper level. But, that is a very minor issue.
IS THIS WORTH IT FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY TO WATCH?
All in all, “Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood” is another slam dunk for director Richard Linklater. It’s a movie that the whole family can enjoy together… the kids will love the coming-of-age shenanigans and they will get a fun history lesson to boot and the adults will bask in all of the film’s nostalgic glory. It’s a movie that may not be fast-moving, but it’s one that if you allow it to soak over you, there is no way that you won’t resonate with its many themes. And if Linklater is up for it since he is the king of experimentation and long-form storytelling, I’d love for him to make this the first film in a rotoscoped trilogy about his life… hopefully we just wouldn’t have to wait another nine years for the next installment.
Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood will be streaming on Netflix Friday, April 1st, 2022.
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