Apollo 10 1/2 review: Richard Linklater finds perspective in animated nostalgia

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This review is from the SXSW 2022 media expo, where Polygon sent editors to review the next wave of upcoming releases.

Richard Linklater specializes in nostalgia. His coming-of-age films, Dazed and confused for Everybody wants it for Childhood, immerses its audience in a specific place and time, capturing the nuances of its daily life with characters that seem real. In his latest project, the rotoscoped Netflix movie Apollo 10 1/2: A Childhood in the Space Age, this time and this place are as much a fantasy as a personal and autobiographical reality. But in its most realistic elements, it explores how hope for the future and horror of the present blend together in the eyes of a suburban child.

Apollo 10 1/2 is set in the spring of 1969, just months before the real-world Apollo 11 mission landed the first explorers on the moon. Two NASA scientists, played by Zachary Levi and Glen Powell (recently the go-to actor to play NASA astronauts and scientists) realize they’ve built one of the Apollo modules too small for an adult. Their best solution? Recruit a fourth-grade student named Stanley, who has average grades and no discernible special skills, to run the module. It’s a fantastic and even idiot that someone loves spy on kids“Robert Rodriguez may have filmed in a trilogy, but Linklater isn’t very interested in the space adventure possibilities of the story. Before Stanley can go to space, his adult self (played by a Rather serious Jack Black) stops the story to launch into a side story, taking up more than half the film’s runtime to paint a picture of Stanley’s childhood Don’t worry, he says – he promises to come back to the NASA stuff later.

Picture: Netflix

Of the, Apollo 10 1/2 focuses on the daily life of Stanley, who grew up just outside NASA in a suburb of Houston with his five older siblings, his mother, and a father pushing papers for the space program. Linklater paints a picture of Stanley’s life with precision and care. Even without the rotoscope animation allowing captured live performances to look realistic, the film feels real, like a real peek back in time. Linklater focuses on small concrete things: the daily routine of the family, the little quarrels between siblings, the games that children invent when they are bored on a rainy day, the disputes over control of the television. TV and movies are a big part of this film, and even with a running time of just over 90 minutes, Linklaker takes the time to give its audience a sense of the kids’ viewing schedule and the importance of every show and theatrical release for Stanley and his siblings. In many ways, it’s a semi-autobiographical film about Linklater’s own childhood, focusing on last summer when going to the Astroworld theme park was an adventure, and watching the new episode of dark shadows was more important than anything.

The sense of major change on the horizon for Stanley comes from Linklater constantly drawing attention to the boy’s child protection and how much is changing around him. He only briefly comments on his privileged childhood in a direct way, but it is still painted throughout the film. TV reports of the moon landing protests are used to distract viewers from larger social issues, and it’s clear that Stanley completely embraces this distraction. It was not easy to ignore the problems of the world in 1969, with the war in Vietnam claiming the lives of thousands of teenagers. At school, Stanley is still learning duck defense and cover against a possible atomic attack, and his middle-class suburb, populated mostly by middle-class white NASA employees, has no people from color in sight.

Black’s narration brings out this cultural dissonance in Stanley’s life, with a hint of sadness and regret as he explains how unique this moment was, due to the juxtaposition between excitement for the space age and new technology making life more exciting, and the horror of living in the middle of a war. Political leaders were being murdered, while reports of global warming and possible irreparable ecological damage from overpopulation told people that the future would not be pleasant. While the adults in the movie can’t help but talk about the morality of trash and the death of the planet, for a kid in suburban Texas, it was easy to ignore the scary stuff and focus on the fun. excitement of an amusement park or a new movie. . The timing of this movie’s release – with a pandemic still raging around the world and war in Europe, while blockbuster comic book movies continue to break box office records – is a reminder of how much the humanity changes little from one era to another, which only reinforces the point of the film.

Linklater communicates the same idea through animation, returning to the rotoscope after 17 years. Apollo 10 1/2 is very different from its past rotoscope characteristics, waking life and A dark scanner, because Apollo has such a clear and focused goal for its animation – to bring a child’s troubled memories to life and accentuate the fantasy inside the reality. When Stanley falls asleep as the moon landing occurs, despite his excitement, his mother tells his father, “Even if he was sleeping, he’ll think one day he’s seen it all.” It’s the feeling that drives the whole film: the way our memories shift over time, creating individual fantasies about what the past really was. The animation team, led by Tommy Pallotta, opted to use motion capture of live actors and then animate the film to better shape the world they want to see. The process gives the characters hyper-realistic, nuanced expressions to go with the vibrant color layers and fantastical, cartoonish backgrounds.

Stanley and his family gather in a darkened room to watch something from a projector in Apollo 10 1/2

Picture: Netflix

It’s clearly not the real 1960s – it’s the 1960s of Stanley’s (and Linklater’s) mind, one that revolved around television, playing in the streets and gazing at the stars in awe. One of the film’s most visually interesting moments comes when Stanley explains the type of shows he watched on TV, and Linklater shows viewers rotoscoped versions of old TV and movie intros, including The Wizard of Oz, The twilight zone, and a trippy rotoscoped version of Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny. The use of animation to illustrate Stanley’s memories makes the film’s approach to nostalgia clearer and smarter, as it manages to explain things that are not seen as the results of the selective and protected memory of the main character. It’s a rosy take on the past, but only because Linklater experienced it that way. As Black’s adult voice suggests, he’s finally started to see things for what they are.

By the time Linklater returns to the initial premise of a child going into space, juxtaposed with rotoscoped footage of the actual Apollo 11 moon landing and launch, the film has come full circle. Apollo 10 1/2 is a charming and visually arresting blend of story and fantasy that captures how children view and process the historical events unfolding around them, and considers what they choose to remember – and how those choices help them. affect as adults, and the worlds they choose to build around them.

Apollo 10 1/2 debuts on Netflix on April 1.

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