While many could tell you that the first man who walked on the moon was Neil Armstrong, few outside those on pub trivia teams would likely be able to name the last person to take that one small step on NASA’s final Apollo mission.
British documentary filmmaker Mark Craig rectifies that situation with “The Last Man on the Moon,” an impressively crafted, affectionate portrait of Gene Cernan and, by extension, the program that concluded with Cernan’s 1972 Apollo 17 landing.
Conveyed in first person through the razor-sharp recollections of the now 81-year-old Texas rancher, the film traces Cernan’s career trajectory, going back to his days in San Diego as a hot-shot naval aviator, blending terrific archival footage with contemporary perspectives to quietly poetic effect.
Despite the inherent nostalgic undercurrent, Craig’s film reveals that bragging rights came with a price — though Cernan would scratch his daughter’s initials into the lunar dust, the same drive and determination that helped get him there would affect his ability to be an attentive father and husband back on planet Earth, as noted by his ex-wife Barbara.
With those stirring images set against Cernan’s articulate, often wistful observations and backed by a score that’s more elegiac than patriotic, “The Last Man on the Moon” rewardingly goes beyond simply identifying the man and his ultimate mission.
‘The Last Man on the Moon’
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica