‘Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood’ (2022) Review: A Nostalgic Portrait of Interwoven Perspectives

Richard Linklater’s Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood (which will be referred to as Apollo 10½ from this point on) is a coming-of-age story that centres around the first moon landing in the summer of 1969. Linklater’s previous films interweave childhood, growing pains, and intimacy through an emotional connection between the characters and his acclaimed Boyhood resonates with a lot of viewers. This year, he crafted an animated movie using a technique called rotoscoping, which blends live-action footage and a 2D hand-drawn format to make a spectacular movie. Apollo 10½ is a delightful animated movie that takes the viewer down the memory lane of a young boy dreaming of being recruited by NASA.

The movie is narrated by Jack Black, who plays Stanley (Milo Coy) as an adult, following the story of a ten-year-old boy as he gets recruited by NASA scientists to take part in a secret mission. The two scientists Kranz and Bostick, modelled after and voiced by Zachary Levi and Glen Powell respectively, tell him the reason why he is being chosen to be part of the mission: the module they built is too small by accident, so it needs to be tested out by a child before it is fully functional enough to be launched into space. Adult Stanley narrates through the rigorous training program at NASA during the summer and a cover-up story constructed so it may look like he had been at summer camp instead. As Adult Stanley explains his exciting story in the summer, he shares his life with his family, in particular, his father (Bill Wise), who works at NASA, and his mother (Lee Eddy), a housewife, alongside his five other siblings.

Apollo 10½ remembers the summer of the space race, the Vietnam War, Stanley’s trip to Astroworld with his family, and his life in the suburbs. His father, who is a simple clerk at NASA, gets uprooted to a new development centre and his mother raises six children while maintaining their home. The movie fondly goes down Stanley’s memories of observing the moon landing, something his father takes credit for, with his family late at night. It cuts back and forth from his secret mission to NASA to the moon landing footage and the control centre, recreated through the rotoscoping animation technique. At the same time, the country was at war in Vietnam and the civil rights movement was shown on TV all the time. His older sister, Vicky (Natalie L’Amoreaux) was the only person that protested about what was happening in Vietnam. Young Stanely was naive to what was happening outside of their doorsteps. In retrospect, the Space Race was cool but it seemed like a distraction from what was happening around the world at that time.

The world, at that time, was made of infinite possibilities. The moon landing was one event Stanley and his family were anticipating the entire time. His father was eager and excited, proud of the achievements that his company and he, as an American, achieved in the space race. But Apollo 10½ is not merely a retelling of the historical event. It’s part fantasy and part coming-of-age story that provides a playful illustration and narrative of the historic milestone. It’s filled with desire and hope through the minds of a curious and impressionable young child. Perhaps this is how Young Stanley remembers the first moon landing, or how he reimagines it years later.

Apollo 10½ has vivid and colourful images of the suburbs and sometimes provides montages and photographs of the family. The director of Boyhood adds darker hues and makes the movie even more imaginative and creative as he possibly can. He adds the markings of a young Stanley in the narrative and visuals, and it is clear that this movie is a labour of love. Linklater knows how to portray the world of a young child and emphasises their problems in his movies. Apollo 10½ is a unique understanding of the imaginative world of a young boy during his adventurous summer at NASA, or so Stanley says.

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