For All Mankind appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Shot on 16mm film, the disc offered a good replication of the source.
If that sounds like a conditional recommendation, it is. 16mm material recorded under less than ideal circumstances in the late 1960s/early 1970s won’t give you material to show off your fancy TV.
Nonetheless, the images looked fine given those constraints. Sharpness seemed adequate, as the presentation never boasted great accuracy, but it felt appropriate given the nature of the source.
No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects materialized, and I saw no edge haloes. Grain seemed natural, and outside of a few anomalies baked into the original photography, source defects failed to create distractions.
Colors tended to seem somewhat flat and bland. Again, this reflected the original film, as the 16mm stock and the various settings leaned in that direction. While not memorable, the hues felt acceptable within the limitations of the footage.
Blacks seemed fairly deep, while shadows demonstrated reasonable delineation. Given the restrictions of the source, nothing here impressed, but the image worked fine for what it was.
As for the movie’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, it opened up fairly nicely. Of course, much of the audio came from material created specifically for the film and not from original recordings, so that allowed the mix to broaden its horizons.
Music spread nicely to the side and rear channels, and effects gave us a good sense of the events. Of course, blast-offs became the most impressive, but other airborne elements created an appealing impression.
The soundscape didn’t go nuts, and that made sense, as the combination of old 16mm and a super-active soundfield wouldn’t fly. The mix offered a nice expansion of the audio without overdoing it.
Audio quality satisfied, with dialogue as the inevitable weak link, Decades-old material recorded under less than ideal conditions meant speech tended to seem tinny and thin. Nonetheless, these components remained perfectly intelligible most of the time, and their verisimilitude overcame any flaws.
Music boasted nice range, while effects came across as accurate and bold, with strong low-end when appropriate. The soundtrack acted as a compelling counterpart to the visuals.
As we shift to extras, we open with an audio commentary from director Al Reinert and Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan. Taped in 1999, both sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion of space flight and the creation of the documentary.
While Reinart gives us some good notes about how he put together Mankind, Cernan becomes the commentary’s MVP. He brings us great first-person notes about his experiences, and these allow the track to become winnng.
An Accidental Gift runs 32 minutes and provides info from Reinart, NASA film editors Chuck Welch and Don Pickard, NASA film vault curator Morris Williams, NASA lead librarian Mike Gentry and astronaut Alan Bean.
“Gift” looks at the origins of Mankind as well as aspects of its production and the original footage. The show expands on the material from Reinart in the commentary and offers an appealing view of the movie’s assembly.
Next comes On Camera, a collection of interviews. In this 20-minute, 35-35-second piece, we hear from Cernan and astronauts Charlie Duke, Al Worden, Neil Armstrong, Pete Conrad, William Anders, James Lovell, Michael Collins, Stuart Roosa, Buzz Aldrin, Edgar Mitchell, James Irwin, John Young, Frank Borman, and Rusty Schweikart.
The astronauts discuss various aspects of their experiences. They deliver lots of excellent insights.
Paintings From the Moon spotlights the art of astronaut Alan Bean. After a seven-minute, 33-second introduction from Bean, we see a 37-minute, 53-second gallery of his work, all accompanied by Bean’s audio commentary.
While I like Bean’s work, his remarks become the main attraction here. He mixes notes about his artistic choices with thoughts about space flight, so anticipate a nice series of notes.
With NASA Audio Highlights, we find a compilation of 21 sound bites that span a total of six minutes, 47 seconds. These provide iconic moments from space flights. While interesting, they could use text to explain their significance and context.
The disc finishes with 3, 2, 1… Blast Off!, a package of launch shots. It goes a mere two minutes, 35 seconds as it displays a series of those elements. It doesn’t do much for me.
The package concludes with a booklet. It mixes art, credits and essays from director Al Reinart and critic Terrence Rafferty. This concludes the set on a positive note.
A look back at first-person footage shot during space missions, For All Mankind becomes a satisfying program. We find lots of excellent material wrapped into a compelling package. The Blu-ray provides generally positive picture and audio as well as a nice array of bonus materials. Expect a high-quality documentary here.