What’s on TV
FIRST MAN (2018) 8 p.m. on HBO; stream on HBO platforms. While this Oscar-winning drama about Neil Armstrong touches on the space race and the political issues the moon landing raised at home, it focuses on the personal and professional setbacks Armstrong overcame before taking that small step in 1969. “Feelings are the film’s fuel,” A.O. Scott wrote in his New York Times review. “Like some of the ancient epics ‘First Man’ is primarily a character study, a space odyssey with a diffident and enigmatic Ulysses at its center.” Ryan Gosling, collaborating with “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle for the second time, portrays the astronaut in the years leading up to the Apollo 11 launch. The screenplay draws from James R. Hansen’s biography and contrasts Armstrong’s reserved, hard-to-read temperament with the larger-than-life job he has shouldered. We watch as he and his wife (Claire Foy) grieve over the loss of their daughter, prepare for the launch and wrestle with the fact that Armstrong could go down in history as the first man to walk on the moon — or perish in outer space.
APOLLO: THE FORGOTTEN FILMS (2019) 8 p.m. on Discovery. While “First Man” has been praised as a stunning reimagining of the liftoff, this new documentary compiles archival footage of the real deal. Apollo engineers and astronauts provide a minute-by-minute narration of that long-awaited moment, while awe-inspiring, slow-motion clips capture the spaceship as it shot up toward the sky. A similar documentary, MOON LANDING LIVE, airs at 9 p.m. on BBC America. And a one-hour Discovery special, CONFESSIONS FROM SPACE: APOLLO, featuring interviews with astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, follows at 10 p.m.
FOR ALL MANKIND (1990) Stream on Criterion Channel or Kanopy; rent on Amazon, iTunes or Vudu. “For All Mankind” is a must-see documentary for anyone remotely interested in space exploration. NASA gave the first-time director Al Reinert access to footage shot by astronauts during the nine Apollo missions carried out from 1968 through 1972. With that wondrous material, Reinert crafted a composite trip, putting dazzling visuals front and center. The Oscar-nominated film is accompanied by a fitting, ambient score by Brian Eno, as well as narration from the NASA tapes and Reinert’s own interviews. Writing in The Times, Caryn James said the movie “re-creates the sense of immensity involved in space travel: the grandeur of its ambition, the complexity of its physical details, the sheer infinity of space.”
THE MARS GENERATION (2017) Stream on Netflix. While the titles above retrace history, this documentary looks to the future: It follows a group of teenagers at NASA’s space camp who dream of one day traveling to Mars. While the youngsters share their ambitions, scientists and astronauts — including Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye — argue that for aspiring explorers to achieve their version of the moon landing, they need all the support they can get.