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‘From the Earth to the Moon’: A Spectacular Journey

THE WASHINGTON POST

Epic in scope, intimate in impact, “From the Earth to the Moon” may rank as one of the greatest docudrama miniseries of all time.

Foolishly enough, HBO only provided critics with the first four hours of the 12-hour production, and many different writers and directors were involved in the various episodes, so quality is bound to vary. The first, “Can We Do This?,” was directed by Tom Hanks, and the last was written by him.

Hanks, who won back-to-back acting Oscars for “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump,” is the executive producer of the series, the heart and brains behind the whole, awesome project. Hanks also starred, of course, in “Apollo 13,” but the miniseries is not an extension of that film. It is a different and much more comprehensive approach.

Each chapter is an hour but HBO will show them two at a time over six Sunday nights--the first two this weekend. “Can We Do This?” serves as an elaborate prologue, dramatizing the Mercury and Gemini missions that led to the Apollo missions. These were the many laps in the race to the moon that President John F. Kennedy declared our national goal for the ‘60s.

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Part of the seductive power of the miniseries is that it brings back, for those old enough to remember, an era when we actually had a national goal. Viewers under 30, if they care enough to watch, will get stunning impressions of the tremendous adventure we all felt a part of.

Humans watched and waited for thousands of years to touch the moon, to clomp around on its gray surface. Now that it’s long since been done, it’s just a bit of history, a nostalgic memory in an electronic scrapbook. “From the Earth to the Moon” dramatizes the practical realities of the venture but also evokes the sense of millions marveling--sharing a dream and seeing it come true. On television.

The miniseries mixes real, never-televised footage from the NASA archives with beautifully executed animation to show the earthshaking launches and the ships in space. Part 1 ends with a gorgeous image: the Earth and the moon reflected in Buzz Aldrin’s visor as he dangles outside Gemini 12. The stage is set for a great adventure--the race to the moon then and the miniseries version of it now.

Why didn’t one of the commercial broadcast networks do a miniseries like this? (CBS did something called “Space” years ago, but it was mostly hokey melodrama.) We can pull a phrase out of context from Part 2 to help explain it: “A failure of imagination.”

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* “From the Earth to the Moon” airs 8-10 p.m. Sundays on HBO. The network has rated it TV-PG (may not be suitable for young children).


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