Part 12 of 12
Date of airing: May 10, 1998 (HBO)
This was close to being a bittersweet episode, because as the end of this episode established, mankind hasn’t returned to the moon, and even if Orange Hitler Donald Trump and his gay-bashing vice president have said that America is going to return to the moon, it’s not like this is actually happening in this political climate. It was also bittersweet, because here was the premise of mankind leaving the moon, while also opening up other opportunities for the future, and all I could think of was how this episode could have ended with the visual depiction of Mars, or how the end credits of the episode could have been like those of IRON SKY — move away from the moon and the Earth, but at the end of the three minutes of credits, you are close to Mars. If FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON would have been produced a decade or two later, I’m pretty sure the zoom to Mars at the very end of the show had been a huge possibility considering by then we have already gone through various Mars rover missions, have seen color pictures of the surface of the red planet, and we were already anticipating pictures of Pluto and beyond, as New Horizons lifted off in 2006 and delivered Pluto and its heart to mankind in 2015. But alas, FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON is 1990s television, so the love story was with the moon and the Apollo program entirely.
I loved the split nature of the episode, and how it went through the final Apollo mission, as well as the creation of LE VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE, almost making me wish there could in fact be a film about the creation of George Melies’ film. First of all, the making of the film gave new information to me, because I didn’t know that Melies was robbed off the money he would have otherwise made with his film in America. It almost makes me want to check out whether Melies’ family was reimbursed in some way later, as an apology from Hollywood (probably not, because Hollywood does not seem to be into this whole apology thing), because what they did was truly an asshole move, but these were the early 1900s, and who could have known that stealing a movie was so easy and yet difficult to do? By the way, if someone from the 2000s would travel back to 1900 and would make a movie about the moon with the science you learned about during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, how would that movie be reviewed back in the day? Did anyone even have the idea to create a realistic and scientifically grounded moon-based film back in the first decades of the twentieth century, or was it all a Jules Verle-like fantasy? Yes, back then the science wasn’t known at all about how to get to the moon, and what it looks like up there, but a realistic portrayal — a wasteland of a dark and colorless desert, no moon people, no volcanos making your life easier, small spaceships landing there, people in spacesuits… That kind of stuff. Was the idea there? Did people expect for the moon to be a dead wasteland with absolutely nothing interesting on it? Was that science there for mankind in the late 1800s?
Meanwhile, the depiction of the Apollo 17 mission was what made this episode bittersweet. Knowing that this is the last mission, the astronauts knowing that they were the last ones to see the surface of the moon with their own eyes, to be the final humans to have the opportunity to do something with the chance they have bene given (like Gene putting the initials of his daughter in the sand of the moon)… It’s like saying goodbye forever to the family you love, or leaving a place you have lived at for years and years for the final time, or maybe even realizing you’re dying and leaving the realm of life. By the way, the Apollo 17 crew was on the lunar surface for three days, and again I am asking myself what the command module pilot was doing in that time. Being alone in a tiny spaceship for three days, orbiting around the moon and listening to radio chatter, must be crazy and weird and fantastic at the same time, but again, the writers of this show (Tom Hanks with a sole writing credit this time around) neglected to make it part of the show itself. What are pilots doing in the days alone around a celestial body, while the other pilots and astronauts are on the surface of that celestial body?
At the end of the day, I can only hope that as a kid of the 1990s, I will experience the landing of the moon, or maybe even Mars, with my own eyes. On a television screen, as the astronauts should broadcast their experience live. Whether it will be on a six-second delay, because the landing is on the moon, or on a multiple-minute delay, because the landing is on Mars. Here is to hoping that science and space isn’t just politics, because here is a generation in the need for a worldwide human experience. And while the moon landings might not have done it, considering wars and death and famine and all that stuff were still happening in the 1970s and later, a Mars landing televised worldwide might be a nice way to just put a stop to the craziness of the world, and remember where we all came from, and how much knowledge we have come to possess to leave the place we were born on, to reach for the stars, and to spread our wings.